The New/Ancient Illicit Making Money Industry
Fighting against the tide
Amsterdam, 18 april 2023 –Police in all of Latin America have seized cocaine and other drugs worth $5bn (£4bn) in an operation lasting three weeks and spanning 15 countries.
They also seized more than 8,000 illicit firearms and carried out almost 15,000 arrests.
Police forces from Mexico in the north to Argentina in the south exchanged information in the operation, which was co-ordinated by Interpol.
Interpol said the arrests had disrupted the workings of several powerful gangs.
Dubbed Trigger IX, the international effort was mainly aimed at fighting the trafficking of illicit firearms.
Experts from the participating countries gathered at a centre of operations in Foz do Iguaçu, a city on Brazil’s border with Argentina and Paraguay, from 12 March to 2 April.
There, they exchanged intelligence on the workings of international crime gangs, such as First Capital Command (PCC), and Mara Salvatrucha with the aim of disrupting the flow of illicit firearms.
Interpol has long warned that the smuggling of weapons strengthens the gangs’ power and further fuels their criminal activities.
“The fact that an operation targeting illicit firearms resulted in such massive drugs seizures is further proof, if needed, that these crimes are intertwined,” Interpol Secretary General Jürgen Stock said of the 203 tonnes of cocaine and other drugs found.
Criminal gangs in Mexico, Central and South America are increasingly well armed and local police often find themselves outgunned and overpowered when confronting them.
In Brazil and neighbouring Paraguay for example, members of the PCC have staged large-scale bank robberies and prison breaks.
The gang first emerged in Brazil but has expanded to operate internationally and has been linked to the murder of a Paraguayan prosecutor while he was on his honeymoon in Colombia.
Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13, continues to control much of the human trafficking as well as the smuggling of drugs and weapons in Central America.
Interpol said that its operation had led to the seizure of large amounts of ammunition even in countries which have so far largely not been associated with large-scale gun violence.
Police in Uruguay secured 100,000 pieces of ammunition, the largest ever amount seized in the country.
It had been smuggled into the country by two European nationals, highlighting the need for international intelligence-sharing, Interpol said.