MASIF participated in this year’s 24-hour Conference on Global Organised Crime, presenting its research on rising polycriminality along the cocaine route. While previously focused on the cocaine and heroin routes, increasing recognition of the convergence of different illicit flows has resulted in the European Commission broadening its approach through the Global Illicit Flows Programme (GIFP). To ensure that growing polycriminality is adequately addressed, the panel of researchers have been exploring how illicit flows converge – whether this is through overlapping commodities, the enabling environment, or the actors that facilitate illicit activity. The panel discussed these forms of convergence, along what is commonly referred to as the cocaine route to Europe and the implications for responses to organised crime.
The focus of the study was on Central and South America and Africa. Martin Verrier conducted research on Ecuador, the tri-border area (TBA) between Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil, while Alejandro Lerch worked on the Dominican Republic and the Darien region of Panama, and Sasha Jesperson explored Benin and Ghana, as well as whether a Lusophone route has emerged between Brazil and Mozambique.
Alejandro Lerch and Martin Verrier presented the study’s main findings, while Marija Atanaskova (MASIF Team Leader) provided the research background and moderated the discussion. The speakers proceeded to address questions from the audience, namely on whether the Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC) could eventually become the next trans-oceanic cartel after ‘Ndrangheta and the Albanian mafia, and on the implementations of the PCC in western Europe.
MASIF’s research identified three main points of convergence: overlapping commodities, enabling environment, and groups and actors. In addition, an emerging Lusophone route between Brazil and Mozambique was identified.
Illicit flows are converging and overlapping in multiple ways in the Caribbean and Central America. Paramilitary organisations, like the Clan del Golfo, are engaging in the illicit trade of various commodities, particularly cocaine and illegal timber. They are also involved in activities like human trafficking and artisanal gold mining and establish extortion rackets that collect a part of the benefits of illicit activities taking place in the region. This provides criminal groups with a well-established presence which, combined with the lack of state presence and the extreme poverty of the area, has made the region a hub that enables illicit activities. A criminal ecosystem has developed, one including Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, which is gaining in importance in the transatlantic cocaine route. Security and political actors are being exploited in both countries, enabling a convergence of flows in cocaine, gold, and other activities, such as illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing or people smuggling. In addition, money laundering is facilitated by the lack of control in the tourism and real estate sectors.
On the Colombian border with Ecuador, FARC dissident organizations, like Frente 48, physically control the area. This has eroded the rule of law in the region, creating an enabling environment for criminal activity and facilitating the convergence of illicit trafficking routes on both sides of the border. Likewise, in the tri-border area between Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay, contraband flows have created an enabling environment that has been exploited for the trafficking of other commodities, including gold, arms, and cocaine, but also human beings.
In the case of West Africa, cocaine has been trafficked there actively since the late 1990s, but criminal groups are also active in cannabis, heroin, and pharmaceuticals trafficking, as well as in environment crime, people smuggling, and human trafficking. In Ghana, for example, convergence has a business-like nature. It is rooted to the involvement of political elites in illegal activities, creating an enabling environment for other criminal actors to engage in multiple activities, explaining the variety of illicit flows- namely arms, contraband, gold, and people.
The Lusophone route is nothing new, as cocaine has been trafficked from Brazil to Cape Verde and Guinea Bissau for decades, but there recently seems to be an emergence of another one, linking Brazil to Mozambique. This route intersects with an already well-established heroin and methamphetamines market. Political elites are once again engaging in illicit activity creating a stable environment for criminal groups. Moreover, the insurgency in northern Mozambique provides a cover for political involvement in trafficking.
The recording of the presentation can be found here.