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Despite rise of Mexican cartels, Colombian traffickers still strong in Central America

Although much has been made of Mexican cartels' spread into Central America, they have not supplanted Colombia-based drug traffickers, who are still highly active in the region.

By Geoffrey RamseyGuest blogger / December 9, 2011

An alleged drug trafficker steps out from a bus to be escorted to a media presentation at a police station in Bogota, Colombia, on Nov. 21, 2011. Despite the increasing influence of Mexican cartels in Central America, Colombian drug traffickers are still highly active in the region.

Fernando Vergara/AP

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The prevailing wisdom on the hemispheric drug trade is that Colombian traffickers have been eclipsed in Central America by the rise of their Mexican counterparts, but Colombian groups remain a significant force in the region.

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In recent years many analysts have emphasized the fact that Mexican cartels are increasing their influence in Central America, edging Colombian drug trafficking groups out of the isthmus. The influence of the Zetas has been especially well documented, with the Mexican drug gang dominating the region’s headlines.

After the group massacred 27 farm workers in the Peten region in May, officials in El Salvador announced that the Mexican cartel had links to local traffickers, and Nicaraguan police declared in October that the Zetas were attempting to recruit members of the country’s security forces. But while the Zetas have been the most visible actors in what Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom has called an “invasion” of Mexican drug gangs, the phenomenon is not limited to the group. The Sinaloa, Tijuana, and Gulf cartels are also known to be deepening their ties in the region, although their incursion has attracted less attention.

Still, while it is true these organizations are spreading their tentacles into Central America, this trend tends to be exaggerated by analysts and the media alike. Colombia-based groups remain highly active in the region, using it as a base for drug shipments and money-laundering schemes. Just last week, Colombian authorities announced that they had broken up a laundering ring associated with Daniel Barrera Barrera, alias "El Loco," which had established several front companies in Honduras.

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