ICAIE Report: Puerto Vallarta and the Chinese Mafia operations in Mexico

The drug cartels in Mexico, together with the Chinese mafias, seek to take control of some seaports in the country in order to move billions of dollars in illicit goods, from drugs, such as fentanyl, chemical precursors, and counterfeit products heading to the United States, unveiled a report by the International Coalition Against Illicit Economies (ICAIE, for its acronym in English).

In its report “The dark side of illicit economies and trade-based money laundering: free zones, ports and financial havens,” the non-governmental organization based in Washington, United States, highlighted that in Mexico alone, Chinese gangs have a presence in nine Mexican ports and 37 throughout Latin America.

“The ports of the Americas continue to be exploited or remain vulnerable to transnational criminal organizations that corrupt officials and strategically use maritime transport as logistics platforms to move tens of billions of dollars (in illicit products)”, highlighted the organization headed by David Luna.

According to the document, the movement of illicit merchandise in these products ranges from narcotics, chemical precursors, opioids, piracy (electronics, clothing, footwear, fake cigarettes and pirated medicines), stolen cars, looted natural resources, illegally hunted wildlife, illegally extracted wood, among others.

Although the report did not fully detail which are the nine ports with a presence of the Chinese mafia in Mexico, it alluded to at least five: Ensenada, Baja California; Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco; Manzanillo, Colima; Lázaro Cárdenas, Michoacán and Veracruz.

“Often (the mafias) control access to ports or sections of ports where local authorities cannot access, carry out inspections or verify company records,” the document said.

According to the analysis, based on China’s Belt and Road strategy, where the government of China committed a fund of nearly $40 billion dollars to promote investment in different countries, illicit trade in Latin American ports has been accentuated.

Virtually unheard of a decade ago, these Chinese players are moving vast sums quickly and quietly, authorities said. Their expertise: routing cartel drug profits from the United States to China then on to Mexico with a few clicks of a burner phone and Chinese banking apps – and without the bulky cash ever crossing borders. The launderers pay small Chinese-owned businesses in the United States and Mexico to help them move the funds. Most contact with the banking system happens in China, a veritable black hole for U.S. and Mexican authorities.

Chinese mafias are not the only ones seeking to take control of the country’s main ports, as Mexican drug trafficking groups have also seen opportunities in these areas to expand their operations.

According to David Luna, director of the Icaie, the organization he directs has identified that the Mexican cartels have influence in different seaports in the country such as Altamira, Tamaulipas; Manzanillo, Lázaro Cárdenas, Ensenada and Veracruz.

Significant market penetration by Latino cartels has resulted in illicit economies that have corrupted and destabilized Mexico’s justice system and rule of law, and threaten regional stability. Its reach is now global, expanding to other regions of the world such as Africa, Europe, and Asia-Pacific”, Luna pointed out.

The report highlighted that organized crime in Mexico and Latin America continues to infiltrate government at all levels and has diversified into sectors such as agriculture, mining, and transportation, as well as the country’s main ports.

“The Jalisco New Generation Cartel has killed judges, policemen, politicians, and thousands of civilians. Gangs like MS-13 and the Mexican cartels also continue to be a significant threat throughout the United States,” Luna said.

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