Organized crime in 2014: What can Latin America expect?

Organized crime is adaptable and profit-driven, and in 2014, that could mean moving beyond Mexico and Colombia to a more diverse set of nations.

We can already identify some of the trends that are likely to mark the evolution of organized crime in 2014. One is the issue of criminal migration, as organized crime in Mexico and Colombia, under increasing security force pressure, follows the path of least resistance, and sets itself up in other countries.

As we have seen with the collateral damage of nations that act as drug transshipment points, the trends of increasing violence, the growth of local organized crime groups, and surges in domestic consumption of drugs are likely to follow, as transnational crime, be it Colombian or Mexican, establishes a presence in these foreign nations. The Mexicans already have outposts throughout the Northern Triangle countries, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, and continue to push down into Central America. Colombian organized crime syndicates have been seen in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, and as far afield as Spain.

One of the major changes in drug trafficking has been the growth in domestic markets within Latin America, most particularly Brazil and Argentina, but with Mexico, Colombia, and even Chile registering growth in criminal earnings from the local distribution of drugs. While Colombian cocaine production makes up 80 percent of the US market, production in both Peru and Bolivia is feeding the domestic markets of Brazil and Argentina, with a percentage of cocaine also heading towards the lucrative European market. These changing markets are giving birth to different types of organized crime. While Colombians still dominate the drug trade in South America, there is evidence of sophisticated organized crime syndicates developing in other countries.

The El Salvador gang truce stumbles on, but few believe it will survive, let alone turn into a more meaningful peace process. Negotiations with the FARC in Colombia continue, and will be the top issue in presidential and congressional elections. It is likely that the smaller rebel group of the National Liberation Army (ELN) will also be granted a seat at peace talks. The rhythm and success of these talks will be reflected in the violence of the Colombian civil conflict as both sides seek to gain victories on the battlefield that they can translate into bargaining chips at the negotiating table.

Honduras will see a new president take office amid increasing chaos and the strengthening of organized crime. Neighboring El Salvador has its own presidential elections that will doubtless impact the gang truce and violence in this tiny Central American nation. The regional superpower, Brazil, will be hosting the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and the eyes of the world will turn towards this massive nation. While the pacification programs in the notorious favelas of Rio continue, the prison-based organized crime syndicates like the First Capital Command (PCC) grow in strength. The notoriously violent Brazilian police force will do all it can to isolate the games from the criminals.

Venezuela lurches from crisis to crisis, with President Nicolás Maduro’s unsteady hand on the tiller. The corruption in the Chavista regime continues to grow, and elements of the military deepen their involvement in drug trafficking, even as express kidnappings in Caracas and the murder rate are at epidemic levels.

Paraguay, often overlooked, is South America’s premier producer of marijuana. It is also home to South America’s newest rebel group. Peru, now the world’s principal producer of cocaine, must also be closely monitored. It’s rebel group, the Shining Path, under pressure from the security forces, has deepened its involvement in the drug trade. Bolivia, another coca producer and important cocaine transshipment nation, has enviably low levels of crime. However, there are clear indications that transnational criminal syndicates have been establishing a presence in the city, and province, of Santa Cruz.

There is overwhelming evidence that with attention focused on Central America, the Caribbean is again becoming important as a drug smuggling route. The chaos in Haiti makes this nation a favorite stopover point for cocaine shipments, but few of the islands have the capacity to take on sophisticated transnational organized crime.

As always, organized crime remains the most adaptable of beasts, looking for any opportunity to turn a profit. It is likely that in 2014 it will look for opportunities in a more diverse range of locations.



Inside The Sicilian Mafia’s Drug Empire

Hidden amongst lush tangerine orchards in 1970s Sicily lay the heart of Michele ‘The Pope’ Greco’s drugs empire…


Giuseppe Greco’s death from a tumor last February garnered more press than his movies ever did. The obituaries read like a string of bad reviews, casting the filmmaker’s career in the shadow of the Mafia. The plot points are damning: he served a four-year sentence for laundering illicit money through his productions; he borrowed a deluxe Mercedes 500 from Palermo’s crooked mayor, Salvo Lima, for a film shoot; and, after jail, he wrote and directed a family saga that romanticises the Mafia of old Sicily.

But the piece of publicity that stuck to him most was the kind you can’t buy and wouldn’t want to: Giuseppe was the son of Michele Greco, the infamous “Pope” of the Mafia.

Don Michele Greco, the debonair silver fox whose ever-present Bible and prayer cards lent him a pious air, was the toast of Palermitan society in the 1970s. His estate, “Favarella,” in the eastern suburb of Ciaculli, was a lush expanse of tangerine orchards with plenty of wild game to excite the sportsmen among the local elites. Many of the rooms in Greco’s lodge had giant ovens and barbecue grills enjoyed by the business leaders, politicians and policemen who were frequent guests. Favorites were given a key to the gate.

Yet the virtuous world of Greco the country gentleman was illusory. The best parcels of land were not inherited but wrenched from nobility by intimidation tactics that whittled the selling price to a symbolic fee. The neighbors were also coerced into selling cheap.

The Grecos of Ciaculli and the Grecos of the adjacent Croceverde Giardini—related by marriage—were not gentry but a criminal dynasty. A violent history that included a mid-century feud positioned Don Michele to assume the role of the region’s “emperor,” a word he preferred to “pope” for its hereditary connotation. Favarella was the throne of his empire, supported by roguish relatives like the psychopathic killer, Pino “Little Shoe” Greco.

Michele Greco’s aggressive land acquisition was not an attempt to corner the tangerine market but rather to control the water below the surface. Though the public owned a large portion of it, Greco and his fellow mafiosi sold to Palermo a third of its water supply at a premium. The city coffers were siphoned most heavily during the dry season. Such a scheme would be impossible without the help of able profiteers like Mayor Lima and his public works chief, Vito Ciancimino, both of the Mafia-friendly Christian Democratic Party.

Favarella was much more than a weekend playground for Greco’s well-heeled crowd. Deep among the citrus trees was a building used for refining heroin by the syndicate from Corleone, run by godfather Luciano Leggio and his lieutenant Totò Riina. A network of tunnels was dug below the orchards to allow escape during a raid.

Ascendant in power around Palermo, the Corleonesi pushed a member off the ruling Mafia Commission to make room for Greco, whose legitimizing presence and papal diplomacy would sway decisions in their favor. He also became a spy for Riina at numerous Mafia summits held on the estate.

Riina’s constant impulse was to eliminate perceived threats in the most final of terms. Dozens of enemies came to an end on Favarella following Greco’s secret debriefings, including his drug-trade competitor Rosario Riccobono, despised for killing an old friend. As the successful boss slept off a sumptuous Christmas dinner hosted by Riina and Greco, “Little Shoe” crept up and strangled him. Several of Riccobono’s men were likewise slaughtered on that evening in 1982, reduced in acid and buried on the grounds.

The bloodbath only increased as the power-mad Riina declared war on a new generation of government prosecutors intent on ending Mafia corruption. Carried out by Greco and his clan, the streets of Palermo became strewn with the “excellent cadavers” of anti-Mafia officials: General Dalla Chiesa, Judge Chinnici, Judge Falcone and many more.

After police caught up with the fugitive “Pope” Greco, Bible in hand, he assumed the role of a victimised small farmer: “I’ve been ruined by this mistaken identity with the Grecos of Ciaculli; I belong to the Grecos of Croceverde Giardini. Violence is beneath my dignity. I mind my own business, tending the trees and the land…. The Mafia I know is the Mafia everybody knows. Even to talk about drugs disgusts me. All that I possess is the fruit of my labor and the heritage of my parents.”

When asked by a reporter how a self-proclaimed peasant could run with such an affluent crowd, he said, “At sixteen I began to go trapshooting. Now I’m sixty-two—do the math. There [at Favarella], I met the best class of Palermitan society. I made friendships that have lasted all my life.”

But aside from a temporary prison release decreed by a “friendly” judge nicknamed “the sentence killer,” none of his friends could help him. In a cage at the historic Mafia maxi-trial of 1987, charged with seventy-eight murders, Greco delivered a typically cryptic invocation to his prosecutor that was half blessing, half threat:

“I wish you peace, Mr. President…because peace is tranquillity of the spirit, the conscience. And for the duty that awaits you, serenity is the foundation on which to judge. Those aren’t my words, they’re the words of our Lord who commanded Moses: ‘When you must judge, decide with the utmost of serenity.’ And I wish, Mr. President, that this peace accompanies you for the rest of your life.”

Greco died in prison at the age of eighty-three, with a Bible by his side, on February, 13, 2008. His son Giuseppe, the director who never lived down his family’s reputation, died three years later in friendly territory: Croceverde Giardini.

by Bluto Ray


Mexican President Calderon

Christian Caryl: Why organized crime is a growing force in world politics

Mexicans are celebrating a victory over the drug mafia this month. The arrest of Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, the head of the Zeta drug cartel, is big news. Trevino, alias Z-40, made a name for himself as one of the most brutal gangsters in a country that has become sadly inured to violence. One can only hope that his imprisonment will put an end to at least some of the stomach-turning brutality he was accustomed to inflicting on his enemies. (At one point, it’s been revealed, he even considered shooting down the plane of then-President Felipe Calderon.)

But will Z-40’s arrest put an end to Mexico’s drug wars? There’s reason to doubt it. Demand for drugs from the cartels’ customers in the United States remains strong, and until that underlying structural cause is addressed, this lucrative trade will continue to thrive. Some experts point out that one of the biggest beneficiaries of Trevino’s downfall is likely to be Joaquín Guzman Loera (“El Chapo”), the head of the rival Sinaloa cartel, who can revel in the elimination of one of his most energetic competitors.

Analysts put the value of the global drug trade at some $350 billion a year — and that’s probably a conservative estimate. And yet narcobusiness comprises only one relatively small slice of the much larger world of global criminality. According to the World Economic Forum: “The cross-border flow of global proceeds from criminal activities, corruption and tax evasion is estimated at over $1 trillion, with illegal drugs and counterfeit goods each accounting for 8 percent of world trade.”

Organized crime lurks behind many of the stories in the headlines today, though the connection rarely becomes explicit. Alexey Navalny, the Russian opposition leader who was just convicted on probably spurious charges of embezzlement, made a name for himself by targeting the corruption that is so deep-seated in today’s Russia that it’s often hard to see where the government leaves off and the mob begins. European Union law enforcement officials warned recently that mobsters are capitalizing on the European financial crisis by taking advantage of black markets in goods and services. Meanwhile, the increasing prominence of the Internet in the global economy is fueling worries about the rising power of organized cybercriminals.

Gangsters are cropping up in all sorts of odd places. Criminal syndicates are implicated in everything from the poaching of rare wildlife to the counterfeiting of drugs and manufactured goods. That growing range of activities attests to the criminals’ skill at exploiting the possibilities offered by deepening global interconnectedness. Consider the opening of this story about a recent global raid by Interpol: “More than 6,000 people around the world were arrested in a two-month anti-counterfeiting sweep that netted tens of millions of dollars worth of fake shampoo in China, phony cigarettes in Turkey and bogus booze in Chile.” The investigators discovered everything from a subterranean factory in Ukraine manufacturing counterfeit cigarettes to a workshop in Peru that puts false labels on motors from China.

Mobsters thrive on instability. In the Syrian civil war, the same criminal groups that once played on their close ties to the government of Bashar al-Assad have now mutated into the shabiha, the feared paramilitaries that do the regime’s dirtiest work on the battlefield. But they’re not the only ones. “The link between insurgent groups and organized crime has long been a feature of intra-state conflict,” notes Asher Berman, an expert at the Institute for the Study of War. “Rebels often turn to criminal activity to obtain the weapons and funding they need to maintain the fight.” The rebels in Syria, desperate for cash, are increasingly resorting to mafia-like tactics of their own, ranging from car thefts to the looting of antiquities. Reports of systematic extortion — the familiar phenomenon of the “revolutionary tax” we’ve heard about so many times before — and economically motivated kidnapping are also on the rise.

What we’re seeing, though, is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Criminals, by definition, prefer to avoid the light of day, so the dimensions of the real mafia problem remain obscure. Was that Vatican official who was arrested in June on money-laundering charges merely trying to make himself and some well-connected friends a bit richer, or is he part of a much broader pattern of institutionalized corruption within the bank of the Holy See? Was that recent police raid in New Delhi that netted a huge haul of black-market weapons a victory over mobsters or terrorists? Did that witness who met an untimely end just before he was to testify in the Whitey Bulger case here in the United States really die of natural causes? Why did the Chinese harbor one of Taiwan’s most prominent triad leaders for 17 years before handing him over to Taipei earlier this month? In most cases, we’ll probably never know the whole story.

But there are a few things that we can say with certainty. First, organized crime in cyberspace is becoming a core problem, one that’s particularly hard to combat precisely because of its amorphousness. Indeed, there’s considerable anecdotal evidence that hackers-for-hire are increasingly lending their services to both governments and gangs. But the opacity of the culprits shouldn’t delude us about the scale of what’s at stake. A report issued earlier this week by a global financial organization noted that half of the world’s securities exchanges came under attack by hackers last year. That means that web-based criminals are potentially in a position to destabilize the global financial system — entirely aside from the untold losses to individuals and companies from mushrooming cybercrime.

Second, illicit financial flows are a big part of the problem. The biggest problem for large-scale criminals is banking their ill-gotten gains, and right now there are plenty of entirely legal lawyers, accountants, and offshore tax havens that are happy to help. Let’s put aside for the moment the theoretical arguments over the virtues and drawbacks of secrecy jurisdictions, and note simply that preserving the present system, which allows criminals to shift their profits almost effortlessly across the globe without scrutiny, will lead to disaster if allowed to continue unchecked. One recent report co-published by Global Financial Integrity and the African Development Bank claims that Africa alone lost up to $1.4 trillion to illicit financial flows. Surely the continuing existence of a system that allows for the existence of a “shadow financial system” on this scale is not good for anyone — countries developed and developing alike.

Third, powerful global crime syndicates are the enemy of good government. Democracy can hardly flourish when politicians meld with the shadowy forces of the mafia. It’s precisely this understanding that has spurred the recent wave of protests in Bulgaria, where demonstrators took to the streets after a thuggish young tycoon was appointed as the government’s top security official. Such concerns are by no means restricted to Eastern Europe, though. The wave of recent protests in places from Turkey to Brazil shows that citizens are increasingly worried about official malfeasance and the lack of transparency that allows it. From what I can see, they’re right to worry.

Christian Caryl, the editor of Democracy Lab, is a senior fellow at the Legatum Institute and a contributing editor at Foreign Policy. He is also the author of “Strange Rebels: 1979 and the Birth of the 21st Century.”



Anti-mafia raids target Rome, Calabria

Italian police said they launched two major anti-mafia operations Friday in Rome and the southern region of Calabria, targeting around 100 people.

The Rome operation, described by Italian media as the largest ever undertaken in the capital region, targeted people who helped lead “illegal activities” in the city and the suburb of Ostia, police spokesman Mario Viola told AFP.
The second, entirely separate operation targeted members of the Ndrangheta in Catanzaro, Calabria, Viola said, adding that 50 arrest warrants were issued for each of the operations.
In Calabria, the arrest warrants concerned “50 to 70 people, including entrepreneurs, politicians and lawyers”, Viola said.

In Italy, arrest warrants can be issued against people already detained for other offences.
By early morning, the police were unable to say how many had been detained as part of the raids.
According to the Italian news agency Ansa, around 500 police officers took part in the Rome operation, “the largest ever undertaken” by the police in and around the capital. A helicopter, dog units and maritime police took part in it.



Mexico’s ‘new’ drug war

President Peña Nieto’s strategy is a lot like his predecessor’s. For obvious reasons.


By Ricardo Ainslie
July 26, 2013

Last week, Mexican authorities arrested Miguel Angel Treviño Morales, the leader of the Zetas, Mexico’s deadliest and most feared drug cartel. In Mexico, the news was met with relief, although there is also apprehension that his arrest will lead to a convulsion of violence; historically, taking out cartel kingpins has meant power struggles within organized crime groups, schisms that leave many dead in their wake.

Treviño Morales, known as Z-40, was apprehended — along with a bodyguard and a third man, reported to be the cartel’s accountant — without a shot being fired as he traveled along a back road near Nuevo Laredo and the U.S. border.

For observers of the Mexican drug war, his arrest provides an unanticipated window into how President Enrique Peña Nieto will address his nation’s entrenched organized crime problem.

From the beginning of his presidential campaign, Peña Nieto, who assumed office in December 2012, vowed a different approach to the drug war from that of his predecessor, Felipe Calderon. Calderon’s frontal assault, though initially popular, very soon became the object of criticism as violence soared. Last summer, the electorate handed Peña Nieto a decisive victory over Calderon’s party, the PAN. Having suffered about 70,000 deaths (a conservative estimate) over the course of Calderon’s presidency, the country was exhausted by the violence, anxious for change.

Calderon pursued a kingpin strategy: Drawing from American counterinsurgency tactics developed in Iraq, his administration declared war on a list of 37 most-wanted cartel operatives. In contrast, many Mexicans believed Peña Nieto would negotiate a peace agreement with the cartels, allowing them free rein in exchange for ending the violence. In addition, Peña Nieto signaled that he might be reevaluating Mexico’s close cooperation with American law enforcement in the drug war.

The arrest of Z-40 would seem to prove those notions wrong. Within days, the national director of Calderon’s party accused Peña Nieto of disingenuously building expectations of a new approach when, for all practical purposes, he was continuing Calderon’s tactics. Indeed, the arrest had all the familiar hallmarks: Treviño Morales’ moves were tracked in real time by a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement drone, while American intelligence monitored his communications and shared what was learned with Mexican authorities.

Pragmatism may be one explanation for Peña Nieto’s decision not to jettison the kingpin strategy altogether. His administration simply could not ignore that Mexico’s drug cartels are criminal organizations that not only operate an international drug trade but also commit brutal acts against ordinary Mexican citizens on a daily basis, including kidnapping, human trafficking and extortion — on a massive level — of individuals and businesses. The Zetas, in particular, are infamous for having a “diversified business plan” when it comes to criminal activity.

For Peña Nieto — and Mexicans tired of the violence created by the government crackdown — it is one thing to entertain a live-and-let-live strategy toward the cartels when their primary activities are understood to revolve around servicing the high demand for drugs in the U.S. However, that strategy is no solution if Mexicans continue to be victimized in the absence of government protection in their communities.

It is also likely that Peña Nieto was presented with a politically awkward choice vis-a-vis the United States. The Mexican president apparently faced incontrovertible evidence from U.S. sources indicating that the head of Mexico’s most feared cartel was, literally, in their sights. To have not acted on that intelligence would have certainly raised speculation that the Peña Nieto government was protecting Z-40, which wouldn’t have played well at home or helped in negotiating a new relationship with Washington.

Still, it would be a mistake for Peña Nieto to simply pick up where Calderon left off. The previous administration overemphasized a militarized law enforcement strategy, only belatedly looking at the social conditions that helped create a culture that allowed the cartels to thrive (lessons important in tamping down cartel violence in Colombia and Brazil).

That said, the kingpin strategy is not going to go away. There is no sign that the U.S. will end its intelligence work in Mexico, with or without overt cooperation from Mexican authorities, and the U.S. will undoubtedly continue to exert pressure on those officials to act on that intelligence. But so will everyday Mexicans, with their sometimes conflicting needs for peace and protection. In Mexico’s budding if imperfect democracy, the latter pressures can no longer be ignored.

Ricardo Ainslie, a native of Mexico City, is the author of “The Fight to Save Juárez: Life in the Heart of Mexico’s Drug War.” He is a psychoanalyst and a professor of education at the University of Texas at Austin.



Mafia leader arrested for running gang from hospital

Cosenza, July 17 – A leader of an ‘Ndrangheta clan, living in a private hospital in the northern Calabrian city of Cosenza, received payments there from his gang’s extortion activities, police said Wednesday.

Mario Musacco, leader of the ‘Ndrangheta-Perna Cicero clan, was arrested after police used hidden cameras in the hospital to document the clan deals.

Several members of the clan, suspected of running protection rackets against businesses and shops, were picked up by police earlier in the day.

‘Ndrangheta is Italy’s richest and most dangerous mafia.


$20,000 Reward Offered for Featured Texas’ Most Wanted Fugitive

945629_590906994262621_1059870069_n afbddfb93930a8a3cceda74f48f581b73b9b75a5AUSTIN – State authorities are now offering a $20,000 reward in the month of May for information leading to the arrest of most wanted fugitive Juan Carlos Marizcal, 34.

Marizcal is wanted for murder, engaging in organized criminal activity and flight to avoid prosecution.

He’s a known member of the Texas Mexican Mafia with a violent criminal past which includes; homicide, robbery, assault causing bodily injury, terroristic threat and arson

Officials say he was last known to live in Laredo.

He’s 5’8″ tall and weighs about 200 lbs. Marizcal’s tattoos include: a “joker” on the outside of his right calf, and other tattoos on his neck, chest, right arm and upper left arm.

For more information visit the Texas Department of Public Safety website –

Anyone with information can provide anonymous tips in four different ways:
• Call the Crime Stoppers hotline at 1-800-252-TIPS (8477)
• Text the letters DPS – followed by your tip – to 274637 (CRIMES) from your cell phone
• Submit a web tip through the DPS website by selecting the fugitive you have information about, and then clicking on the link under their picture
• Submit a Facebook tip at by clicking the “SUBMIT A TIP” link (under the “About” section)


Each Family has it's own rules

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