According to a UN official, Central American crime groups have started to use the darknet to strengthen connections with transnational organized crime and drug trafficking gangs. They are offering drug trafficking services for flat rates and reaching markets that would be otherwise inaccessible. Officials believe this is one explanation for increased cocaine demand and purity.
Amado Philip de Andrés, representative of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) for Central America said that an influx of high purity cocaine in new places indicated greater level of interaction between drug trafficking groups. The UN official argued the point that gangs were becoming more technologically advanced, thus creating new connections with groups through the internet. This interconnectivity has been speculated for some time, but the “why” and “how” were unknown.
“[On the darknet], Central American gangs offer their services and are contracted to transport illicit shipments for drug trafficking groups,” Andrés explained. Instead of a percentage of the value of the drugs being transported, the gangs are asking for fixed, flat rates. Payable only in Bitcoin.
The United States corroborated the explosive cocaine increase in Central America, along with an unexpected increase in cocaine production in Colombia:
“The estimates released March 14, by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) show that Colombia produced 188,000 hectares of coca crops in 2016 — a figure nearly 20 percent higher than the 2015 estimate, and nearly 80 percent higher than the average annual estimate from 2008 to 2015. No government or non-governmental organization has estimated such high levels of coca production in Colombia since records began being kept on this issue.”
Disruption of some of the criminal networks behind cocaine trafficking gives authorities a greater understanding of organized crime collaborations. One example was a recent bust by the Spanish National Guard in Operation Deambular VI. They arrested, in conjunction with Colombian law enforcement, a group responsible for importing more than 400 kilograms of cocaine into Europe. The cocaine was smuggled in via cargo containers, planes, and boats.
Few dispute the fact that Central America’s gangs and transnational criminal organizations are evolving. However, there are still some “gaps of knowledge” as to what constitutes an evolved drug trafficking organization. For instance, MS13, the most well-known gang in El Salvador, was labelled a “transnational drug trafficking organization” by the US government. However, El Salvador Vice President Óscar Ortiz argued that the connection between Central American gangs and transnational crime groups not yet a problem. He agreed that this type of advanced connectivity was a threat, but not a pertinent one. The gangs “have not made that step yet,” he said.