Monday, June 11, 2012
the Italian Cosa Nostra and the Worldwide Drug Trade
As Proceso recently reported, Italian officials issued 34 arrest warrants in Palermo, which charged members of
Sicily's Cosa Nostra and Naples' Camorra gangs with importing cocaine from Colombia into Europe via Italian ports.
The investigation also revealed the presence of a network linked to the Italian groups in Monterrey, which allegedly worked
with Mexican traffickers to arrange the shipment of cocaine loads across the Atlantic Ocean.
The network in Monterrey was led by two Italian brothers, Elio and Bruno Gerardi, whose business was ostensibly dedicated
to exporting industrial ovens. However, inside the ovens the group often hid hundreds of tons of cocaine, which, authorities
say, were shipped on behalf of the Cosa Nostra. The brothers were originally based in Colombia, but after a shipment to Mexico
was seized by Colombian authorities in 2002, the brothers fled the South American nation, and Monterrey turned into a vital
center of operations.
The Gerardi brothers remain at large, though several
other targets of the investigation, including a number of figures linked to the Cosa Nostra, have been arrested. In addition
to the Italians, the investigation also named a handful of Mexicans who participated in the Gerardi's network. It does
not, however, say whether the men worked for one of the two principle Monterrey drug cartels -- the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas -- or if they were independent. The investigation also revealed links between
the Gerardis' Monterrey-based group and traffickers in Morocco and Poland.
The investigation into the Gerardi operation demonstrates the degree to which Mexico has become a vital actor not
merely in the US cocaine supply chain, but in the global drug trade. For a gang dedicated to moving South American cocaine
to Europe, there was no inherent need for a Mexican connection, but the centrality of Mexican traffickers to the global trade
drew the Gerardis to forge links with Mexican traffickers as early as 2002. The freedom of movement available in Mexico also
made the country a logical center of operations following the Gerardis' exit from Colombia. While the Gerardis were investigated
by US and Italian authorities, and forced to flee Colombia because of government pressure, there is no evidence of similar
heat in Mexico.
Similarly, Mexicans have popped up in drug trafficking
investigations around the world. For instance, three brothers from the Pacific state of Sinaloa received a death sentence in Malaysia, after they were arrested in a methamphetamine processing lab in the Asian nation
that lies some 8,000 miles from Mexico's borders (their case remains in the appeal process). In similarly remote Australia,
the government fingered Mexican gangs as the nation's foremost cocaine suppliers. Mexican gangsters have operated
in South America for years, and have also popped up in Africa, a staging area for shipments that later make the leap to Europe.
The most important structural factors driving the Mexican groups' relevance to the global
trade include the nation's proximity to the US, the world's largest cocaine market, and the weakness of Mexico's
criminal justice institutions. As a result of the first factor, Mexican gangsters have grown fabulously rich and have established
deep logistical networks emanating from South American producer nations, qualities that are useful in trafficking cocaine
anywhere around the globe. Thanks to the second factor mentioned above, the Mexican gangs have long enjoyed a significant
degree of impunity. Because it is relatively unlikely that arrests will interrupt drug-smuggling operations, the Mexican organizations
can thrive for years, if not decades, and in so doing accumulate vast amounts of institutional knowledge and personal relationships
that are invaluable in carrying out illicit activities.
This is also not
the first time Mexico has featured prominently in an investigation into Italian drug networks. In 2008, hundreds of people
linked either to Calabria's 'Ndrangheta and the Zetas and Gulf Cartel (which, at that point, were part of the same
organization) were arrested for their alleged role in a cocaine-trafficking ring. As the book "Contacto En Italia" demonstrates, much of the cocaine was shipped from New York, and all of it came
from South America, yet, despite the lack of geographic relevance, the Mexicans were the key suppliers.
Italy also plays an important role in the European cocaine trade, for reasons that in some
ways mirror Mexico's in the Western Hemisphere. Just as Mexico serves as the gatekeeper to the US, Italy, with its long
coastlines and huge ports like Naples, is a logical entry point for cocaine, heroin, and other drugs on their way into the
larger European market. And just as Mexican organizations like the Sinaloa Cartel are some of the hemisphere's most venerable, Italian groups like the Cosa
Nostra are among the oldest and most notorious gangs on the continent.
Patrick Corcoran is a writer and international relations student who specializes in Mexican affairs.
He blogs at Gancho (http://www.ganchoblog.blogspot.com/).
This commentary, "Italy
Drug Sweep Reveals Cosa Nostra Operation in Northern Mexico," was first published in InSight Crime on June 5, 2012, and reposted per a Creative Commons authorization. InSight
Crime's objective is to increase the level of research, analysis and investigation on organized crime in Latin America
and the Caribbean.