Pablo Escobar, the infamous Colombian drug trafficker with ties to the Mafia.
For decades, books, movies, and other media have secured audiences by recounting the Mafia’s global influence and detailing the scope of illegal activities, including human trafficking, money laundering, and the drug trade. Despite many fictionalized accounts, the Mafia continues to create very real conflict and engage in global acts of violence. Of particular interest is the Mafia’s involvement in the highly lucrative Latin American drug trade.
Ties between the Sicilian Mafia and Colombian drug cartels have been suspected for years, with one FBI informant, Antonino Giuffre, linking the Sicilian Mafia to Pablo Escobar. Giuffre, the former right-hand man to the chief of the Sicilian Mafia, leaked to the Italian press that the two groups had close relations. He detailed how the Cosa Nostra advised Escobar’s Medellin Cartel on military tactics and business practices for expanding the drug business and related criminal activity.
Escobar sent drugs to Sicily in exchange for advice. These drugs were forwarded to the American Mafia, which would exchange them for weapons and money. This created an efficient and highly prosperous global supply chain that was hard to track. Although Escobar was a cocaine dealer, he was adept at winning over locals by building schools, soccer fields, and hospitals. Despite that he ruled with an iron fist, he was often bolstered by the local community. Many poor people saw Escobar as helping their community; he seemed to serve their urgent needs better than the government.
Mexico has borne witness to an increasingly bloody drug war. It has escalated violence in areas cartel controlled areas. The cartels’ influence is strengthened in opposition to the government. Two of the most prominent Mexican groups, the Zetas and the Drug Cartel, do business with one of the most influential Mafia organizations, the ‘Ndrangheta, which has connections to the New York and Calabria Mafia. As demand for cocaine and heroin in Europe increases, the Mafia turns to Mexican cartels for a steady stream of drugs. The ‘Ndrangheta has been successful at engaging directly with local growers and producers, eliminating intermediaries, and selling directly to the European market. Increasing pressure from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and Mexican and Italian police forces are limiting some supply routes, cleaving the supply chain. This disruption to the cross-Atlantic drug trade is putting pressure on the Mafia and the cartels who are looking for new ways to reinforce existing channels of distribution and create new ones.
As is the idea that drugs are a Latin American problem. The Mafia’s violent impact can be felt in Mexico, Italy, the U.S., the Netherlands, and Honduras. With such a strong global reach and vast financial resources, it will take international cooperation across law enforcement agencies to curb the Mafia’s violent influence and the drug trade. In the Maxi trial, authorities helped judges Falcone and Borsellino obtain evidence in other countries to locate individuals and follow the fiscal chain as they created a strong case to charge the criminals. This level of cooperation is critical for curbing the global drug trade. In addition to international law enforcement agency cooperation, a more robust legal framework that provides better enforcement and transparency will be beneficial.
Italian law enforcement authorities continue to support these international initiatives and believe they will not only help in terms of information sharing but also in combatting corruption in the supply chain and enforcement agencies as transparency and accountability are increased. This has been evident in the cooperation between the US, Colombia, and Mexico and their ability to identify, track, and prosecute drug traffickers. Finally, countries that suffer from drug violence can be incentivized to invest in community-based approaches, including better training and pay of police officers and development of community resources such as schools and hospitals, so neighborhoods are not forced to rely on cartel funding.
Roberto Malta is a Brazilian born, George Mason University student pursuing a B.A. in Global Affairs, with minors in History and Economics
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