This is a source for analysis, interviews, and commentary on security in Latin America. Herein you will find rumors, the results of off the record interviews, and information you'll not find in international or United States news media.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Border Surge and Unintended Consequences in Spain

A colleague of mine who writes for Latin American Thought recently sent over an interesting article from El Espectador, a Colombian print weekly.

The article outlines how Colombian organized crime has installed itself inside Spain.

Citing the recent murder of a Sr. Leonidas Vargas, killed while resting in a hospital bed in Madrid, the author pointed out that in the past the assassin would have been sent from Colombia - most certainly on his way home before the Spanish authorities could respond to the crime. Today, however, the assassin probably didn't even leave Madrid, asserts the author. I completely agree.

For years now, Spanish police have done away with the idea that Colombian assassins travel from Colombia to do their work in Spain. Today, these men live and work in Madrid, perfectly blending in with Madrid's business class.

The are called "debt collectors," and are sent to force their targets to pay a drug trafficking debt - often marked in dollars - with their own life.

"You pay or you die."

There is very little about this scenario that we haven't seen in Latin America. There is even little novelty of this occurrence in Spain, especially for those of us who follow the trends of Latin American drug trafficking.

But what I find interesting is how Spain may become over time a new battle ground for rival trafficking groups who seek to use the Iberian peninsula as a spring board into the rest of Europe.

Until now, we haven't seen blood shed between the Colombian and Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs). There is a business agreement in place, one forged many years ago. But this agreement considers only the movement of product into the United States. When the EU is under consideration, all bets are off.

Spain becomes a more important transit country when we consider Venezuela's role in moving bulk quantities of cocaine from Colombia to Europe, as much of it flows through Spain.

Spain is a stopping point on the drug route from Western Africa into the EU, and places such as Guinea-Bissau and Senagal, which have become reception points for drugs flowing out of Brazil and Argentina.

Finally, if all the talk of a "border surge" turns into reality, then we will see Spain, again, become a hot transit zone.

The Colombians are already in place. And I recently read that street gangs such as the Mara Salvatrucha are heavily networked throughout Spanish cities. What, then, will happen once the Mexicans come into town?

A spike of violence in Spain on the heels of any border surge, I think, would be the text book definition of unintended consequences.

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