Sign the Resolution for a Federal Commission on Drug Policy
Contents | Feedback | Search | DRCNet Home Page | Join DRCNet
DRCNet Library | Schaffer Library | Government Publications | America's Habits
President's Commission on Organized Crime, 1986
Marijuana trafficking presents both unique opportunities and significant disadvantages for the smugglers who provide the drug to American consumers. The volume of demand for marijuana precludes domination of the market by any group of traffickers and allows a constant influx of small-scale and mid-size operators as limited suppliers. These smaller groups are in large part able to enter the market because of marijuana's comparatively low wholesale cost. While an investment of tens of thousands of dollars is required for entry into the U.S. heroin or cocaine traffic, a capital investment of less than $10,000 is generally sufficient in the marijuana trade. Finally, although marijuana is supplied to U.S. consumers by growers in Colombia, Mexico and Jamaica, nearly one-sixth of the U.S. supply is domestically grown. Because significant amounts of the drug are cultivated in all 50 States, American traffickers need not travel to a foreign source country for a marijuana supply.
While the barriers to entry in the U.S. marijuana traffic are relatively low, marijuana sales generate a small profit in comparison to other illicit drugs. This is primarily because marijuana, unlike heroin or cocaine, in not diluted or "cut" in the intermediate phases of trafficking, but is sold in much the same form at the wholesale and retail levels. Marijuana is bulky and difficult to transport in high-profit quantity: the profit generated from the retail sale of 700 pounds of commercial Colombian marijuana could most probably be equalled from the retail sale of one kilogram of diluted cocaine. Finally, trafficking marijuana implies increased risks of interdiction because the bulk of the drug makes it most visible to law enforcement authorities.
Despite the relative ease with which small-scale traffickers can enter the marijuana market, only large criminal organizations have the resources and connections necessary to generate large profits from marijuana trafficking. Many of these groups deal in other drugs in addition to marijuana, and are organized to facilitate the movement of any drug to the United States with minimal interference from law enforcement authorities. Their size allows group control of all aspects of a trafficking venture from cultivation through the wholesale transaction, thus eliminating middlemen, decreasing costs and maximizing profit. Unlike smaller operations, the major trafficking groups have the capital required to purchase the large vessels, trucks, or planes necessary for smuggling high profit multi-ton quantities of marijuana. A final advantage is their willingness to use violence and corruption, the tools traditionally associated with organized crime, to ensure the success of smuggling ventures.
From the 1930's through the mid-1970's, Mexican growers and traffickers supplied nearly all of the marijuana consumed in the United States. Most shipments of the drug were smuggled into this country by car or truck; a small percentage was transported by air. The Mexican monopoly ended in 1975, when in a joint venture, U.S. and Mexican authorities increased marijuana interdiction and eradication efforts in major Mexican cultivation regions and along the U.S. borders. Paraquat, a potent herbicide toxic to humans, was used widely in the eradication program, and contaminated much of the Mexican crop. Despite the interdiction efforts, a portion of the tainted marijuana was successfully smuggled into the United States, and many Americans who smoked the drug subsequently suffered adverse health consequences. Eradication and interdiction of the Mexican crop, compounded by the American marijuana smokers' reluctance to purchase a potentially paraquat-tainted drug, resulted in a simultaneous decrease in the availability of and the demand for Mexican marijuana. By 1979 Mexico supplied only an estimated 11 percent of the marijuana available in the United States and by 1981 that figure dropped to 4 percent.
Concurrent with the commitment of more manpower and resources to marijuana eradication and interdiction efforts in Mexico, authorities in Jamaica, which was the source of the 10 percent of the American supply not originating in Mexico, mounted a similar campaign. The Jamaican initiatives significantly reduced marijuana production and trafficking in that country, and virtually eliminated Jamaica from the American marijuana trade for a number of years.
During the mid-1970's America's two marijuana supply sources, traffickers in Mexico and Jamaica, had only small amounts of the drug available for export. The resulting vacuum was swiftly filled by Colombian criminal groups, who for years had been involved in smuggling all manner of contraband. Through the late 1960's these groups increased cultivation of marijuana in remote regions of the Guajira Peninsula and began to develop systems to facilitate the transport of multi-ton quantities of the drug to the United States. At the same time, many Colombian groups were establishing themselves as major operators in the cocaine trade: the organizational structures, trafficking routes and corrupted officials necessary for cocaine ventures often proved equally useful for marijuana trafficking.
Once the Colombians established a position as marijuana traffickers, their role in the traffic expanded rapidly. By 1975 airstrips capable of handling heavy 4-engine planes with the capacity to hold one ton of marijuana were common along the Guajira Peninsula. Loading facilities for "motherships," large vessels capable of transporting tons of marijuana, dotted the coast. By the early 1980's a Congressional committee estimated that between 15 and 60 thousand tons of marijuana were exported from that country to the United States each year.
In 1985 Colombia remains the major supplier of U.S. marijuana, but the Colombian share of the market has declined significantly since 1980. This decrease is attributed to increased eradication in Colombia and to accelerated interdiction along major trafficking routes. Colombia's reduced production has been offset by increased cultivation and trafficking both in Mexico and Jamaica. Mexico, now ranked second in world marijuana production, could become the leading producer in 1986, given a Mexican bumper harvest and continuing eradication in Colombia.
This short history of marijuana trafficking demonstrates that law enforcement pressure in a particular cultivation area is compensated by production and trafficking increases elsewhere. Trafficking organizations are positioned in all major source countries to handle increased volume when opportunities present.
Trafficking Today: Colombia
Colombia supplied 42 percent of the marijuana consumed in the United States in 1984. The major percentage of this traffic was controlled by large Colombian criminal organizations.
Although the Colombian marijuana crop is cultivated in several regions of the country, the largest production occurs along the Guijara Peninsula. Colombian traffickers purchase marijuana from growers, and sometimes provide protection and additional financing for cultivation. Crops are harvested twice each year, with the largest harvest occurring in the fall. The harvest pattern directly affects the level of marijuana trafficking activity between Colombia and the United States; trafficking is naturally heaviest after the fall harvest.
Nearly 90 percent of the marijuana exported from Colombia is shipped to the United States by sea; almost all the remainder is transported on general aviation aircraft. Both maritime and air traffic are primarily concentrated along Colombia's north coast, although some percentage of the traffic is centered along the country's Pacific coast.
The major portion of Colombian marijuana is shipped to the United States on large motherships. These ships are typically fishing vessels or freighters and can hold tons of marijuana; a 100-foot mothership can transport SO tons and a 400 foot mothership can ship over 100 tons of the drug. These ships, generally owned or at least controlled by Colombian trafficking organizations, remain at sea or in selected Colombian ports until a shipment is prepared for export and transported to a beach site along the Colombian coast. There are more than 100 such sites along the north coast from Barranquilla to Portete, all which are linked by a network of roads, trails and airstrips to the major growing areas. When preparations are complete on shore, the mothership moves into a prearranged loading point typically one-half to 3 miles offshore. Small boats then ferry bales of marijuana from shore to the mothership; loading of many tons may be accomplished within an hour. Motherships are nearly always loaded at night to decrease risks of detection.
The loaded motherships generally either sail from the Guajira coast directly to the southeastern United States or to Caribbean transshipment points, where cargo is off-loaded for future pickup. Traffickers use the same maritime routes popular with cocaine traffickers; the Windward Passage between Cuba and Haiti, the Yucatan Channel between Mexico and Cuba, and the Mona Passage, bordered by the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, are most frequently traveled. From these routes American ports along the Gulf of Mexico and the east coast are accessible to smugglers. In addition, a small percentage of Colombian ships now sail directly to the U.S. west coast.
Those motherships that approach the U.S. coast typically hover 50-100 miles offshore in international waters. There, they are met by small ships, typically purchased or rented shrimp boats, which off-load and ferry the drug shipment to shore. While traffickers traditionally made no attempt to conceal bales of marijuana, either on motherships or on off-loading vessels, increased law enforcement surveillance has recently prompted smugglers to hide their drugs in secret compartments or in empty or false fuel tanks.
The Colombian trafficking organization normally oversees the cultivation and export of marijuana only through the off-loading procedure. Off-loading is accomplished by "service providers" who never actually own the marijuana, but who merely collect a fee for its safe transfer. Once on the U.S. shore, the drug shipment is delivered to a distributor, who in turn supplies lower level dealers. The traffic below the wholesale distributor level is vast and not well-understood.
Motherships that do not travel to the United States generally transit the Bahamas and/or the Caribbean. In both regions marijuana traffickers can either transfer shipments from motherships to smaller crafts, which sail to the United States, or they can unload and store shipments at island storage bases. Use of island transshipment points has increased as law enforcement efforts have intensified along the southeastern U.S. coast. Rampant official corruption in a number of island nations facilitates this traffic.
An estimated 3 percent of the marijuana shipped from Colombia to the United States by sea is transported on commercial vessels. Typically, marijuana is concealed in containerized cargo, but in some instances crewmen or cruise ship passengers have been directly implicated in trafficking the drug. In terms of quantity, cargo shipment provides great opportunities for traffickers and presents a decreased risk of interdiction.
An estimated 10 percent of the marijuana smuggled from Colombia to the United States reaches this country via general aviation aircraft or commercial air shipment. Non-commercial air shipment of marijuana parallels the Colombian air trafficking patterns common in cocaine smuggling. Many of the same air routes and transshipment points are used; the same airstrips are accessible along the north coast of the country, and the same methods used to avoid law enforcement interference are applicable. Smugglers use both smaller twin engine aircraft and larger four-engine planes for marijuana transport. When air transport allows faster shipment, it limits export quantities and increases the likelihood of interdiction.
A small portion of the marijuana exported from Colombia is shipped by aircraft, then air-dropped over sea or land for pickup and further shipment to the United States. Most airdrop activity occurs in the Bahamas, but an increasing number of drops have been intercepted in the Yucatan Peninsula, Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Medium-size to large twin engine aircraft are typically used for air-drop operations.
In addition to trafficking marijuana to the United States or transshipment points, Colombian organizations sell marijuana directly to non-Colombian traffickers, who assume responsibility for the shipment in Colombia. The buyers then traffic the drug into the United States using maritime and air shipment systems similar to the Colombian methods.
Mexican marijuana production nearly doubled from 1983 to 1984, positioning Mexico as the second leading supplier of the drug to the United States. An estimated 20 percent of the marijuana available for consumption in the United States originates in or transits Mexico, and that figure is expected to increase with a bumper harvest in 1985. PEA analysts predict that this increased production, with concomitant eradication and interdiction successes in Colombia, could make Mexico the top American marijuana source in 1985.
Although marijuana is grown in nearly every state in Mexico, heaviest cultivation occurs in the northern and western states of Sonora, Sinaloa, Chihuahua, Oaxaca and Cuerra. As in Colombia, crops are harvested twice each year, with the largest harvest in the fall. Cultivation occurs both in small open fields and in well-maintained, hundred-acre sites. Growers are typically overseen and financed by larger trafficking organizations.
Harvested marijuana is prepared for shipment near the cultivation fields. Mexican marijuana is transported to the United States by primarily overland methods, although aircraft are also used to smuggle drugs across the border. Overland shipments are typically concealed in automobile trucks, false truck beds, camper tops and tanker trunks. The larger trucks commonly haul multi-ton quantities: U.S. officials at El Paso, Texas, seized nearly 6.5 tons of marijuana from a tanker truck in February 1984, and nearly 30 tons from a cargo truck in March of that year. In addition, suitcases of marijuana are often forwarded on commercial bus lines to destinations beyond border checkpoints for subsequent pick-up.
Air shipments generally run between private Mexican airstrips and clandestine runways or drop spots in the southwestern United States. Single engine aircraft are popular with Mexican smugglers because they can land on open fields, roadways and rough landing strips common on both sides of the border, and typically carry about 1,500 pounds of marijuana. While few details are available concerning marijuana air shipment, the great assortment of airstrips on both sides of the border suggests a significant volume of air traffic. A 1977 survey, for example, detected nearly 3,000 airstrips in Mexico; one-half of them were concentrated in ten major clusters. About 600 strips lie along the United States border and are ideally positioned to serve either as launching sites for flights into the United States or as refueling stops for flights en route to this country from southern Mexico. Strips in the other clusters most likely serve as refueling and transshipment points for aircraft traveling between South America and the United States. A large number of airstrips in the southeastern United States serve as landing sites for the Mexican flights.
Larger Mexican criminal organizations appear to control a significant portion of the marijuana traffic between Mexico and the United States. Many groups are active in both cocaine and heroin smuggling as well as marijuana trafficking. The central organizations are generally controlled by members of one extended family, but often include non-family members in lower positions. Like other trafficking groups, the Mexicans rely consistently on an essential criminal support of attorneys, bankers and other professionals, both in Mexico and in the United States.
Prominent among the larger Mexican organizations are the groups headed by Jamie Herrera Navarres, Rafael Caro Quintero, Ernesto Fonesca and Miguel Felix Gallardo. These groups collaborate in smuggling ventures, much as the major Colombian cocaine trafficking organizations work in concert to maximize resources and profits. In one recent instance, for example, a consortium of traffickers led by Caro Quintero cultivated hundreds of hectares of marijuana at five separate large-scale sites throughout the state of Chihuahua. All fields were landscaped, fertilized and well-irrigated, demonstrating the Mexican traffickers' knowledge of high-tech agricultural techniques. The cultivation sites, along with eight associated processing camps, were seized by Mexican authorities in November 1984. The seizures netted 10,000 metric tons of whole marijuana, or an estimated 1,900 to 2,400 tons of net marketable marijuana. In this single operation, officials confiscated 8 times more marijuana than Mexican and American authorities at the time believed was produced annually throughout Mexico. The seizure raised serious questions both about the magnitude of drug traffic between Mexico and the United States and about continuing official corruption throughout Mexico. It seems highly unlikely that an operation the size of the Chihuahua system could develop or function without earlier detection by authorities.
Jamaica, from 1980 to 1984 this country's second leading marijuana supplier, provided 14 percent of the United States market share in 1984, trailing Colombia's 42 percent and Mexico's 20 percent contributions. Jamaican traffickers, much less highly organized than their counterparts in Colombia and Mexico, supplied about 1800 metric tons of marijuana, as well as smaller amounts of sinsemilla and hashish oil to United States consumers in 1984.
The greatest portion of Jamaican marijuana is transported to the United States by general aviation aircraft, although some maritime shipment also occurs. Over 70 island airstrips, one-half of which are clandestine, facilitate the air traffic, which commonly includes shipment by single engine and light to heavy twin engine aircraft. Jamaican marijuana shipments are typically either flown directly to United States landing sites or are air-dropped to small pleasure craft in waters near the Bahamas.
Multi-ton marijuana shipments are occasionally transported to the United States on small motherships, pleasure craft and cruise ships. A small percentage of Jamaican marijuana exported to the United States is concealed in containerized cargo on commercial maritime vessels.
The United States Crop
The United States is currently a significant marijuana source country: about 12 percent of the marijuana consumed in the United States in 1984 was domestically cultivated. The largest crops are grown in Hawaii, California, and Oklahoma, but there is now some production in every State. Growers can be landowners, but are typically squatters who operate independently or in small groups. They cultivate their crops in Federal fields, forested land, private clandestine plots or greenhouses, scattering plants next to trees or amid legitimate crops to avoid detection. Planting on Federal land offers growers the advantage of anonymity and shields them from recently enacted laws which authorize seizure of their property or other assets. Many plots, including those on Federal parkland are wired with devices, such as punji sticks, fish hooks hung at eye level, and trip wires attached to guns and boulders, designed to ensure the security of the crop. Growers are often armed and violent.
There is presently no evidence of a highly developed distribution system for the domestic marijuana crop in the United States. It appears that numerous smaller organizations traffic the drug between states and that some individual growers supply larger criminal organizations in major cities nationwide. These organizations, which include both La Cosa Nostra groups and trafficking specific groups, distribute domestic and imported marijuana to brokers, retailers, and street-level dealers. The extent of their control of the U.S. market is uncertain but estimated to be significant.
The Role of the LCN
In 1967 Federal officials reported that the LCN was not significantly involved In trafficking marijuana. Low profit was thought to be the primary disincentive to La Cosa Nostra involvement; in addition, the large and loosely structured market was thought to be unattractive and uncontrollable. In the late 1960's the United States marijuana supply was exported almost exclusively from Mexico. Entry into the trafficking business required little capital and a simple border crossing, and thus attracted many small and independent operators. When Colombia became the major United States marijuana supplier in the early 1970's, however, the LCN was provided with a more controllable source. Concurrent with this production shift, the United States demand for marijuana and the retail price level for the drug steadily escalated, prompting some LCN families to become involved in trafficking marijuana. For a short period, this activity proved to be a high profit/low risk enterprise for traditional organized crime. Additionally, trafficking marijuana carried little of the social stigma associated with trafficking heroin or cocaine.
As the following case study demonstrates, marijuana trafficking has increased the vulnerability of some organized crime families and has led to a number of significant LCN arrests.
Case Study: The Cleveland Connection
In the mid-1970's, Carmen Zagaria, a Cleveland drug dealer, began to buy wholesale marijuana by the pound and sell it at retail in one ounce bags. He rapidly expanded his business in the course of a few years and developed a network of suppliers, couriers and distributors. Although the business prospered generally, Zagaria lost a substantial investment in one foiled drug transaction in 1979 and borrowed money from Angelo Lonardo, the reputed underboss of the Cleveland LCN Licavoli family. In return for the loan, the Licavoli family assumed control of the Zagaria operation.
Under Lonardo's oversight, the Zagaria enterprise expanded rapidly. By 1980 the organization was buying 400-800 pounds of marijuana per week and had incorporated over 20 couriers. PCP, LSD, cocaine and hashish were added to the traffic.
The methods used by Zagaria were simple. His couriers flew to the southeastern United States, usually to Florida via commercial airline, and established contact there with a Zagaria supplier. Suppliers included both LCN affiliates and non-LCN dealers. Couriers picked up large marijuana shipments, paid for them in cash, and drove the drugs back to Cleveland in rental cars. In Cleveland the shipments were stored in stash houses, then distributed to a network of wholesalers and retailers. The Zagaria enterprise was a high-volume multimillion dollar operation; in a single 10-day period in 1980 the group brought 3,000 pounds of marijuana to Cleveland from Atlanta.
In the course of his trafficking business Zagaria was involved in numerous crimes, including murder. In 1982 he was convicted of selling seven pounds of marijuana and 21 grams of cocaine and was sentenced to 10-30 years in prison. Zagaria became a Federal informant and though never a member of the Licavoli family himself, provided sufficient testimony about family activities to bring the leadership before a grand jury. In 1983 Angelo Lonardo and five other Licavoli associates were convicted and incarcerated without possibility of parole for numerous crimes, including conspiracy to distribute marijuana.
Millions of Americans abuse a number of licit and illicit drugs other than heroin, cocaine and marijuana; these include stimulants, synthetic narcotics, hallucinogens, and depressants. Most popular among these dangerous drugs are diazepam (Valium), methamphetamine and PCP. In addition, controlled substance analogs known commonly as "designer drugs," have gained popularity with users since 1980.
Dangerous drugs are available to the consumer from three major sources. Many of the drugs are approved for medical use in the United States, and reach the illicit market through a variety of diversion methods. A significant portion of the United States supply of certain drugs, notably amphetamines and diazepam, is diverted from licit channels in foreign countries and smuggled into the United States. Finally, it is estimated that all the PCP and chemical analogs, nearly all the methamphetamine and about 80 percent of the injectable amphetamine available on the illicit market in 1984 were produced in clandestine United States laboratories.
Only certain areas of the traffic in dangerous drugs clearly reflect organized crime involvement. Most notably, the traffic appears to be dominated nationwide by outlaw motorcycle gangs. According to the Commission's survey of local law enforcement officials, these gangs control nearly 40 percent of the "dangerous drug" traffic in the United States. While these gangs have traditionally been active in trafficking a wide variety of illicit drugs, they have developed the technology to manufacture methamphetamine and PCP, and have been a major force in the wholesale and resale distribution of these two drugs nationwide.
The major outlaw motorcycle gangs traffic dangerous drugs within separate territorial boundaries: the Hell's Angels control the West Coast trade, the Outlaws dominate the Midwest and parts of the east coast, the Bandidos control the Southwest, and Eastern Seaboard States are dominated by the Pagans. Officials are uncertain of the total membership of the four groups, but estimate that nearly all the U.S. traffic in PCP, and up to three-fourths of the illicit methamphetamine traffic falls under their control.
The Hell's Angels, the oldest of the four groups, first became involved in drug distribution in the late 1960's. Initially, the group trafficked marijuana, heroin, cocaine, seconal, PCP, amphetamines and methamphetamines. In the early 1970's the organization recruited a chemist to manufacture methamphetamine and to instruct other organization members in the procedure. Hell's Angels' activity shifted as their production of methamphetamine increased and within a short period of time, the organization dominated west coast methamphetamine manufacture and distribution.
In the eastern United States, the Pagan's gang leadership also recruited chemists and gained control of the methamphetamine and PCP markets from Florida to New England. Pagan drug activity is centered in the Philadelphia/ South New Jersey area; several Pagan-controlled processing centers and small laboratories are located in the region. It is known by law enforcement officials that Pagan gang members have frequently cooperated in joint ventures with the Philadelphia Bruno organized crime family, especially in methamphetamine and PCP manufacture and distribution. Officials believe that the Bruno leadership regularly finances a portion of Pagan drug activities in return for a percentage of the drug profits and enforcement and protection services. In addition, it appears that the Pagans and the Bruno family have arranged to divide control of the methamphetamine and PCP markets in certain territories and that the two groups coexist and cooperate in these regions.
Case Study: The Pagan/Bruno Relationship.
Between 1977 and 1981 both the Pagan motorcycle gang and the Bruno organized crime family were active and competitive distributors of methamphetamine throughout the mid-Atlantic states. Both groups obtained P2P, an essential chemical in methamphetamine production, from Ronald Raiton, the major supplier of the chemical in the eastern United States. Raiton supplied P2P directly to Ronald Kownacki, a businessman closely aligned with the Pagan leadership, and to Ronald Martorano, a Bruno family associate. Though Kownacki and Martorano both operated in the Philadelphia area, their laboratories and clientele were distinct.
Kownacki paid the Bruno family a $10,000 fee for every gallon of P2P he purchased from Raiton. He sold the methamphetamine he produced to Pagan Walter "Buckets" Jozwiak, who cut the drug and distributed it to Pagan mother club members in New Jersey, Delaware and Philadelphia. Martorano distributed his methamphetamine through Bruno family channels.
In 1980 Kownacki was assaulted and robbed by two Bruno associates, who claimed they were collecting a debt owed to the Bruno family. They stole a significant amount of gold from Kownacki, which he maintained belonged to the Pagans. In February 1981 a number of Pagans confronted members of the Bruno family and demanded that the gold be returned. The Bruno associates refused, but agreed to meet with the Pagans to negotiated possible joint ventures in trafficking methamphetamine and PCP. Finally in 1982 the Pagans and the Bruno family agreed that each group would control methamphetamine and PCP markets in separate territories and that competition between them in these areas would cease. In 1983 after the agreement, the estimated street value of the Pagan PCP and methamphetamine operations was $15.5 million.
Organized crime involvement in trafficking dangerous drugs other than methamphetamine and PCP in the United States is not well-documented. La Cosa Nostra appears to be active in trafficking methaqualone from Colombia through Florida to major United States cities, but the scope of their interest in this market is not known. Mexican traffickers have smuggled significant quantities of diazepam, methaqualone and amphetamine into this country for at least ten years. A major portion of the illicit methaqualone traditionally available in this country was trafficked to the United States by Colombian organized crime groups; however, international controls adopted by virtually all major producing and exporting countries have led to worldwide shortage of the drug.
The DEA currently reports that organized crime is not now involved in the production or distribution of controlled substance analogs, "designer drugs." Given the enormous profit potential of these substances, however, and the relatively simple manufacturing processes required in their production, the formulation and distribution of controlled substance analogs would seem to be an endeavor perfectly suited to organized crime.
Drug Trafficking, Terrorism, and Insurgency
Drug trafficking organizations in many areas of the world coexist and cooperate with political insurgent groups and terrorists. Their typical relationship is mutually beneficial: traffickers supply terrorists with American currency and weapons in return for protection and assistance in smuggling activities. While terrorists and insurgents do not currently control significant portions of the drug trade, the profit potentially realized from even isolated drug transactions could provide sizable revenues for a militant cause. Terrorists and insurgents funded through drug trafficking could very conceivably become powerful enough to disrupt governments in a number of countries presently allied with the United States, and thus pose a serious threat to this country's national security.
The role of terrorists and insurgents in drug trafficking has expanded greatly since the early 1970's as drug trafficking has spread across the world. At that time, heroin traffic was controlled by North American organized crime groups working with Sicilian suppliers in the French Connection, marijuana was supplied to the United States almost exclusively by Mexican trafficking organizations, and cocaine traffic in this country was insignificant. Heroin now reaches North America from Europe, the Middle East, Mexico and Southeast Asia. Marijuana is trafficked to the United States by Colombian and Caribbean based groups as well as by Mexicans, and cocaine from nearly every country in South America satisfies a still-increasing demand for the drug throughout this country.
At the same time, the expanded United States market for illicit drugs has swelled the profit from trafficking to enormous proportions, and attracted terrorist and insurgent groups to this activity. In addition, this source of funding serves the ideological purposes of many groups. As explained by terrorism expert Michael Ledeen:
Running drugs is one sure way to make big money in a hurry. Moreover, the directions of the flow are ideologically attractive. Drugs go to the bourgeois countries, where they corrupt and where they kill, while the arms go to pro-Communist terrorist groups in the Third World.
The links between terrorist and insurgent groups and traffickers are most substantial in drug source countries, including Colombia, Peru, Burma and Thailand. In Colombia, four major insurgent organizations work in collaboration with cocaine traffickers. The oldest, largest, and best-equipped of these groups is the Revolutionary Armed Force of Colombia (FARC), which is the armed wing of the Colombian Communist Party (PCC) and claims over 5,000 active members and supporters. The FARC forces consist of between 23 and 28 "fronts," essentially independent company-level forces, nearly all of which are located in Colombia's rural areas. Over one-half of the fronts operate in coca and marijuana growing regions. FARC forces cultivate some coca, but derive more profit by collecting protection payments from coca growers in their operating territory, often demanding a 10 percent share of the drug profits. One FARC front reportedly obtained over $3.8 million per month by assessing this protection tax. Collected monies are used to buy weapons and supplies which are often shipped into Colombia on return drug flights. Two FARC fronts have had documented direct dealings with cocaine traffickers to obtain arms and ammunition.
In exchange for the levied fee, the FARC forces protect growing and trafficking areas, including air fields, and warn traffickers of nearby anti-narcotics police or military patrols. In certain areas of Colombia FARC fronts control enough strategic points to make police travel difficult or impossible.
FARC encampments have recently been discovered in close proximity to several major cocaine processing centers. For example, on April 6, 1984, during a raid of a fully operational processing center in Southeast Colombia known as "La Loma," officials discovered and subsequently destroyed a FARC guerrilla base camp. The FARC camp, complete with airstrips and large stockpiles of food and medical supplies, that group's direct involvement in providing protection for the cocaine traffickers. A month prior to the La Loma raid, when authorities raided another processing center nearby known as Tranquilandia, they were met by approximately 30 armed resistors in fatigue uniforms believed to be FARC members.
A number of other militant organizations in Colombia have also been associated with the drug trade. The leftist 19th of April movement (M-19) has been most notable for its October 1985 takeover of the Colombian Palace of Justice in which 11 of that country's Supreme Court Justices were murdered. Although M-19 was once hostile to traffickers, and on several occasions kidnapped relatives of prominent drug smugglers, some officials maintain that the October incident was related to drug trafficking. It is alleged that the attack was motivated by the M-19's desire to destroy records that might lead to the extradition a number of major Colombian cocaine traffickers, and to intimidate authorities in Colombia to force them to rescind the extradition treaty in effect between that country and the United States. M-19 also at least once traded drugs for arms from Cuba through Colombian trafficker Jaime Guillot-Lara. In the early 1970's to 1982 Guillot supplied M-19 with weapons in return for their assistance in his drug smuggling activities through high-ranking Cuban officials. The Cubans provided a safe haven for Guillot's drug smuggling vessels en route to the United States from Colombia in return for payments. M-19 received periodic weapons shipments for facilitating the arrangement on Guillot Lara's return trips to Colombia from the United States.
In Peru, where an estimated 40 percent of the world coca crop is grown, insurgents and traffickers share much the same relationship evidenced by the Colombians. Insurgents and growers work in the same remote areas, primarily in the upper Huallaga Valley, but operate separately. Smugglers supply arms and money are supplied in return for militant protection. The two groups do not maintain a structured relationship or pursue common goals; their collaboration is one of convenience.
The most prominent insurgent group currently operating in Peru is the Maoist Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso), which seeks a rural-based revolution to rid the predominantly peasant population of the "imperialistic" influences of the United States and other foreign governments. While existing evidence is insufficient to link the Shining Path to the drug trade, the group has incited peasants, many of whom make their living from coca cultivation, to rebel against anti-coca projects in major growing areas. During 1984 several anti-coca projects, including a United States-supported crop substitution program, were attacked by armed mobs, resulting in many injuries and deaths.
In Southeast Asia a number of political insurgent groups rely principally on heroin smuggling to finance their activities. They control or influence the main areas of opium production in northeastern Burma, where the Burmese government does not exert authority. The insurgents range from ideological revolutionaries like the Burmese Communist Party (BCP), to ethnic separatists, such as the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), and opium warlords, like the Shan United Army (SUA). All of these groups, whatever their professed objectives, are heavily involved in the production, transport or sale of heroin.
In Burma, where 90 percent of the southeast Asian opium crop is grown, the BCP controls an estimated two-thirds of the major opium production areas and levies a protection tax on cultivators. While the BCP has traditionally controlled opium cultivation and the SUA has exclusively dominated associated refining and trafficking activities, the BCP has recently begun to engage in processing and sales, and the groups have come into conflict. The BCP remains an active political insurgency while the SUA now concentrates its resources almost entirely on the drug trade.
In Thailand the link between insurgency and drug trafficking is much weaker. Although Burmese groups operated with relative impunity on both sides of the Burma/Thailand border in the early 1980's, government initiatives in Thailand have severely disrupted their activities. The only indigenous Thai insurgent group of any consequence, the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT), is reportedly ready to engage in drug trafficking, but has been kept under control by Thai security forces.
In the Middle East, nearly all the militant groups engage in struggle in Lebanon - Palestinians, Phalangists, Druze and Shiites - reportedly are financed in some part by the drug trade. Lebanon's Bekaa Valley is the site of significant hashish production; heroin laboratories are also believed to exist in the area. Terrorists throughout that area can and do enter the drug trade, either directly or by protecting drugs transshipped through regions they control.
Armenian terrorists are also active in Lebanon, especially in Beirut, where Armenian nationals are heavily involved in drug trafficking. In 1980 Noubar Sofoyan, an Armenian heroin and hashish trafficker connected with the right-wing Justice Commandos of the Armenian Genocide, was indicted in the U.S. for heroin smuggling. Sofoyan allegedly helped fund the 1976 bombing of a Turkish installation in Zurich. He was arrested in Greece on drug charges in 1981 and was subsequently extradited to Lebanon and released; he remains a fugitive today.
Traffickers as Terrorists
While drug traffickers are not by definition terrorists or insurgents, they rely heavily on terrorist tactics to obtain limited political objectives. The use of threats, violence, assassination and kidnapping by trafficking organizations to prevent vigorous enforcement of drug laws can only be categorized as terroristic in nature.
The use of terrorist tactics is most evident among traffickers in Colombia, Peru and Mexico. In Colombia much of the violence centers on the issue of the extradition of reputed Colombian drug traffickers to the United States for trial. The extradition issue has become prominent in the past two years under Colombian President Belisario Betancur, and has prompted unprecedented levels of terrorism by traffickers. Two key members of the Colombian government, Minister of Justice Rodrigo Lara-Bonilla and Justice Ministry Assistant Eduardo Gonzalez, both outspoken supporters of the implementation of the United States/Colombia extradition treaty, were murdered reportedly by traffickers in 1984. The Colombian judiciary, the body responsible both for the investigation of drug cases and the disposition of extradition requests, has been targeted by traffickers. Twenty-four judges, among them the judge investigating the Lara assassination, have been murdered in the past two years. Americans have also been singled out: Colombian traffickers have reportedly offered a $350,000 bounty for the murder of any top DEA official in the United States or in Colombia, and have threatened to kill five Americans for every reputed Colombian drug trafficker extradited to the United States.
In Peru drug-related violence has been increasing since 1983, and has specifically targeted anti-drug efforts in the Upper Huallaga Valley. A series of violent attacks by traffickers on police units and eradication workers in that area led to the November 1984 torture and murder of 19 members of a United States-financed coca-eradication team, and subsequently to the brutal murder of 17 United States financed eradicators by about 50 traffickers armed with submachine guns less than one year later. Dozens of people in Peru, including policemen, mayors and farmers have been reported killed in the past year in attacks attributed to cocaine traffickers.
In Mexico trafficking violence culminated in the February kidnapping, torture and murder of DEA Agent Enrique Camerena and a Mexican pilot. Camerena's abduction occurred shortly after Mexican police, alerted by DEA, raided the largest marijuana plantation ever discovered in that country and seized an estimated 8,500 tons of marijuana. In the course of the search for Camerena, five persons, including a police officer, were killed. Mexican trafficker Rafael Caro Quintero is being held by Mexican authorities in connection with the Camerena murder. The trafficking-related violence in Mexico escalated further in November 1985, when 17 police officers and other members of an anti-drug team working in southern Mexico were lured into an ambush, tortured, and killed by a large group of drug traffickers armed with automatic weapons.
A number of hostile foreign governments, motivated either by a need for hard American currency, or by a more ideological desire to undermine governments in Europe and the United States, actively facilitate drug trafficking activities. Cuban and Nicaragua blatantly aid traffickers smuggling drugs from Colombia to the United States; the Bulgarian government assists traffickers transporting drug shipments from Southwest Asia to Western Europe. All three countries are geographically well-positioned to serve as transshipment points for drugs en route to Europe or the United States, and all allow trafficking routes to cross through their sovereign territory, thus providing a way for traffickers to circumvent drug-interdiction authorities.
Reports of Cuban government involvement in drug trafficking first surfaced in the early 1960's, but were in large measure unsubstantiated. A series of reports in the 1970's subsequently suggested Cuban Government involvement, but did not provide solid evidence of such activity. In the early 1980's, however, the link between the Cuban government and Colombian drug traffickers was documented. In November 1982, the United States District Court indicted four major Cuban officials on charges of conspiracy to smuggle drugs; those indicted included the former Cuban Ambassador to Colombia, two officials of the Cuban Communist Party, and the Vice Admiral of the Cuban Navy. All four officials were involved in facilitating the trafficking activities of Colombian Jaime Guillot-Lara, reputedly a major marijuana, cocaine and methaqualone trafficker. The Cuban officials, according to the indictment, agreed to allow Cuba to be used as a supply and loading center for Lara's ships transporting drugs to the United States, and permitted him to navigate drug vessels through Cuban waters to evade United States interdiction authorities. The Cuban Government reportedly expected large payments for their role in this traffic; on one occasion, the government was to receive approximately $800,000 from the sale of 10 million methaqualone pills and approximately 23,000 pounds of marijuana.
In addition to facilitating maritime trafficking, recent reports indicate that drug traffickers regularly fly through otherwise tightly controlled Cuban airspace. Traffickers apparently have an assigned corridor which they can transit without challenge from Cuban air defenders. Cuba also reportedly allows Colombian traffickers to off-load drugs to other carriers for the final journey to the United States.
It is often difficult in drug trafficking cases to make a distinction between corrupt high-ranking government officials and government-sanctioned involvement in the drug trade. Given, however, the tight controls exerted by the Castro government's security apparatus over foreign travel and communications, the drug-related activities which have occurred in Cuba in recent years almost certainly were known and approved by that country's highest ranking officials. According to the Department of State:
. . . the evidence clearly indicates more than a case of corruption by local or mid-level security officials in Cuba . . . Narcotics trafficking has apparently been sanctioned by Cuba as a means to finance subversion in Latin America.
Since 1981, the United States has received a steady stream of intelligence indicating that Nicaragua is used by drug traffickers as a transshipment point between Colombia and the United States, and that officials of the revolutionary government there, the Sandinista Directorate, are involved in the drug trade. Evidence further suggests that enforcement measures implemented by Colombian President Betancur have prompted Colombian traffickers, notably Jorge Ochoa and Pablo Escobar, to relocate their cocaine processing facilities to Nicaragua.
The best evidence to date of the link between the Nicaraguan government and Colombian drug traffickers came to light in 1984. In that year, pilot Adler Barriman Seal, a former Ochoa cocaine trafficking pilot working then with the DEA in an undercover capacity, reported that Escobar and Ochoa had agreed in April 1984 to use Nicaragua as a cocaine smuggling base. At Ochoa's request, Seal flew 750 kilos of cocaine in June, 1984 from Colombia to an airfield just northwest of Managua. The airfield was used generally as a joint facility by the Nicaraguan armed forces and the Ministry of the Interior. Seal's aircraft was damaged in the landing, and according to Seal, Frederico Vaughn, a personal assistant to Interior Minister Thomas Borge, arranged for him to return to the United States in another plane. Later that June, Seal returned to the airfield in a C-123 aircraft, equipped with a hidden camera, to retrieve the drugs. Both Vaughn and Escobar, escorted by Nicaraguans in uniform and recorded on videotape, personally helped Seal load the cocaine into the aircraft. Vaughn was paid $1.5 million for providing the Colombian traffickers "secure facilities."
In July 1984, Seal made another trip to Nicaragua from the United States to bring supplies for a new cocaine processing complex under construction there. In a subsequent taped conversation with Seal, Frederico Vaughn stated that the processing center was ready for use.
Eleven persons, including Vaughn, were indicted by a Federal grand jury on charges stemming from this trafficking arrangement. All remain at large. It is highly unlikely that these trafficking activities occurred without the knowledge and consent of the Sandinista government.
Since the late 1970's, reports that many drug dealers, especially Turkish nationals, operate out of semi-permanent bases in Bulgaria have been in circulation. The allegations against Bulgaria include charges that the Bulgarians, primarily through an official government trading firm, Kintex, officially sanction the sale of illicit drugs to Western Europe and use the proceeds from those sales to finance illegal arms transactions and to bankroll terrorist groups. There are consistent reports that top-ranking members of the Bulgarian Security Service or ex-Bulgarian ministers comprise the directorate of Kintex.
Certain smugglers are reportedly permitted to conduct activities within Bulgaria. In effect, Bulgarian officials, though Kintex, assign representatives to establish fee arrangements with smugglers for bartered contraband. Smugglers trafficking through Bulgaria are primarily Turkish nationals of Kurdish background, but include Syrian, Jordanian, Lebanese and European nationals.
The Role of the Corrupt Official
The corrupt official is the sine qua non of drug trafficking. By the corruption of his office, he protects the interest of traffickers in all phases of growing, processing and smuggling illicit drugs. Officials "from the lowly constable on up" are bribed and subverted by traffickers.
While United States officials and investigators commonly acknowledge that corruption among the ranks of both the Mexican Federal Judicial Police and the Directorate of Security facilitates drug trafficking in and through that country, they are hesitant to make open accusations concerning the relationship between corrupt officials and traffickers. Their reasoning is persuasive: Mexico is a neighbor and an ally, a politically and economically unstable one at that. The government of President Miguel de la Madrid appears sincere in its efforts to improve the quality of drug law enforcement throughout the country. Nonetheless, mounting evidence prompted the Department of State to assert in its 1985 mid-year report to Congress that:
There are strong indications that the Mexican [drug] program has been less effective over the past two years, and that corruption is playing a major role in this decline.
Drug-related corruption among members of Mexico's Federal police force, which was widespread and well-publicized in the 1970's, continues to undermine anti-drug efforts in that country. Allegations of corruption surfaced in March 1985, after DEA agent Enrique Camarena Salazar and his pilot, Alfredo Zavala Avelar were kidnapped and murdered in Guadalajara. Six Mexican police officers were indicted on charges related to the Camarena murder; they were charged with assisting drug traffickers through "protection of personnel and goods, custody of drugs in transit, as well as continuing services of information." The arrested officers have reportedly confessed that drug traffickers offered them between $200 to $6,250 a month for official protection.
In connection with the Camarena case, DEA officials maintain that Jorge Armando Pavon Reyes, the First Commandante of the Mexican Federal Judicial Police, who directed the investigation into the Camarena murder, accepted a bribe from the trafficker suspect in the killing, Rafael Caro Quintero, and in return allowed Caro to leave Guadalajara. Later apprehended in Costa Rica, Caro claimed in a confession that he paid Pavon Reyes $265,000 to avoid arrest at the Guadalajara airport. Despite his denials of the charges, Pavon Reyes was indicted for the crime in Mexico in April 1985.
United States pressure after the Camerena murder and subsequent revelations of corruption prompted a number of quick responses from the Mexican Government. President de la Madrid announced a major reorganization and consolidation of the police forces under stronger Federal control; the governor of one Mexican state dismissed that state's entire judicial system, including the state attorney general, police and administrative personnel; and a reported 100 agents of the Federal Security Directorate, a political police force and counterintelligence unit run by the Interior Ministry, resigned in the face of corruption allegations. Corruption in at least some Mexican institutions, however, appears to be deeply embedded and not likely to be eliminated quickly or easily. At the end of September, 1985, six months after the Camerena murder, evidence of Mexican corruption continued to surface as the members of the United States Fraternal Order of Border Patrol Agents charged that:
Mexican federal agents, using the latest in radio and scanner-equipped cars and armed with automatic weapons, have been providing transit security for huge loads of domestically produced marijuana and heroin and in-transit cocaine.
Bahamas and Caribbean
The Bahamas and a number of Caribbean countries serve as a major refueling transshipment points for traffickers transporting illicit drugs from Mexico and South America to the United States. Corruption among officials at all levels throughout these countries appears to be widespread.
Drug-related corruption has reached the highest offices of government in the British-held Turks and Caicos Islands, where in March 1985, that country's Chief Minister, Norman Saunders, was convicted of conspiracy to travel in furtherance of a drug plot and on five counts of traveling in furtherance of in illicit drug transaction. Saunders, the first foreign head of state to be convicted on drug charges, was found not guilty of more serious charges of conspiracy to smuggle marijuana and cocaine. Trial witnesses testified that Saunders accepted a total of $50,000 to allow drugs to move freely through his island chain. He planned to use the islands as a "safe-haven" for traffickers smuggling illicit drugs from Colombia to the United States. Stafford Missick, Minister of Commerce and Development in the Saunders government, was convicted of conspiracy to import cocaine and marijuana in the case; a third indicted Turks and Caicos official, Aulden Smith, has not yet been tried.
In the Bahamas, a 1984 Commission of Inquiry investigating drug trafficking through the Islands reported that Bahamian officials "from policemen to cabinet minister" allowed the Islands to be used as a transshipment point for illicit drugs in return for sizeable bribes. A majority of the three-man Commission concluded that no credible evidence directly tied Bahamian Prime Minister Lynden Pindling to the drug-related corruption, but noted that Pindling's bank accounts reflected deposits of $3.5 million in excess of his salary between 1977 and 1983.
The Commission of Inquiry noted that a number of the Family Island Commissioners, the representatives of the central government on nearly all the Bahamian Islands:
claimed they either had no direct knowledge of drug trafficking or had never received any complaints regarding such activity . . . We find that to be quite remarkable and we do not believe that they were being candid with us . . . they could not help but know what was going on in relation to drug trafficking. We have concluded that there must have been a degree of acquiescence on their part . . .
The Commission report also charged that Colombian cocaine trafficker Carlos Enrique Lehder Rivas operated an extensive cocaine enterprise in the Bahamian Island of Norman's Cay from 1978 until 1982, and the Lehder paid "substantial bribes" to various ranks of policemen and customs officials to facilitate his illicit drug activities.
Former trafficker Luis Carcia, who transshipped marijuana and cocaine through the Bahamas on a regular basis in the late 1970's and early 1980's testified before the President's Commission on Organized Crime that he had:
. . . never seen corruption such as there is in the Bahamas. The policemen used to plead with me to use airstrips in their territory so they could received the pay-off . . . sometimes off-duty police unloaded the stuff from the plane and into the boats for me . . . we always operated out of the Bahamas because of the total corruption there.
Official corruption has seriously hindered anti-drug efforts throughout South America, especially in Bolivia and Peru. Throughout Bolivia during the 1980's regime of General Garcia Meza, corruption among high-level officials charged with drug enforcement was so rampant that "the government itself became an international drug trafficker." Despite the subsequent efforts the current Bolivian government to more effectively enforce drug control laws, corruption at all levels of the Bolivian government remains a major problem. In 1983, for example, Bolivian authorities arrested two suspected traffickers with a small amount of cocaine and confiscated a 14,000 acre ranch and two airplanes belonging to them. Two weeks later, the men were transferred to the authority of a local prosecutor who subsequently released them and returned their possessions. According the reports, at least $250,000 in bribes were paid to Bolivian police and government officials for the release of the two traffickers.
In August 1985, officials in Peru began a drug corruption investigation that country's entire Interior Ministry after authorities discovered direct telephone lines linking reputed cocaine trafficker Reynaldo Rodriguez Lopes to officials at the Mexican Consulate in Peru. Officials also found a government car belonging to a top aid of former Interior Minister and Prime Minister Luis Percovich parked in front of Lopes' home.
These are a few among many examples. Corruption linked to drug trafficking is a widespread phenomenon among political and military leaders, police and other authorities in virtually every country touched by the drug trade. The easily available and enormous amounts of money generated through drug transaction present a temptation too great for many in positions of authority to resist.
Contents | Feedback | Search | DRCNet Home Page | Join DRCNet
DRCNet Library | Schaffer Library | Government Publications | America's Habits