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Faeser travels to the origins of drug crime

Drug cartels have a firm grip on South America. Their violence is increasingly spilling over into Europe. Federal Interior Minister Faeser wants to clarify on site in the coming days how this can be prevented.

By Ina Rottscheidt, ARD Rio de Janeiro

The world had never seen this before: a hostage-taking in front of the camera. At the beginning of January, masked men attacked a television studio in the Ecuadorian port city of Guyaquil – and the whole country was watching.

Ecuador is descending into violence: Statistically speaking, one person is murdered every hour – in a country that was long considered one of the more peaceful and stable in South America.

Drug cartels have a firm grip on the continent. Cocaine production has doubled worldwide in the past ten years. Most of it comes from Colombia, Bolivia and Peru. The surrounding countries are also being drawn into this: in Ecuador, Chile and Uruguay, criminal gangs are now fighting for markets and transport routes.

More powerful than the state

They have long since expanded their activities, says Mexican security expert Eduardo Guerrero. “There are many other lucrative businesses in which they are involved: protection rackets, robbery and human trafficking, for example.” The cartels have state-of-the-art military weapons and technology – they are often even better equipped than the state security forces. “There are regions where the state no longer has any say and the cartels have taken over power,” says Guerrero.

With billions in revenue from drug trafficking and protection rackets, the cartels have become so powerful that they have infiltrated the judiciary, security authorities and parliaments in many places. All attempts in recent decades to stop these developments militarily have failed.

The expert observes that many states have de facto capitulated. “I don’t really see a strategy that works.” But there is apparently no awareness of how dangerous this is. “Because these criminal groups infiltrate the state. They threaten or kill politicians or candidates they do not like. And in doing so, they endanger democratic structures,” said Guerrero.

Violence is coming to Europe

Against this background, Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser is traveling to South America this Sunday. In Brazil, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia, she will advise on international cooperation in the fight against drug crime, because it is increasingly spilling over into Europe, says Faeser.

“Drug gangs carry out an unbelievable spiral of violence. Investigators in the Netherlands and Belgium have even discovered torture chambers,” said the minister. Journalists and prosecutors were also threatened or even murdered – “and that in the middle of Europe.”

In Germany alone, 35 tons of cocaine were seized last year. Investigators can only imagine how large the actual quantities are. The port of Hamburg in particular is considered the gateway here. That's why the logistical and financial structures of the drug networks must be dismantled – on both sides of the Atlantic, demands Faeser.

Dock workers are interesting for drug gangs

“We see how drug gangs try to use port workers for their illegal deals,” said the Interior Minister. Therefore, maximum investigative pressure and good prevention are needed. Authorities need to better inform companies about drug cartels' recruitment attempts.

“Companies have to take a close look at who starts working for them and with what motivation. Employees need contact points that they can turn to in confidence when criminals exert pressure.” And companies would have to pay fair wages so that the money from drug deals is not attractive to some employees.

The Federal Interior Minister's first stop this Sunday is Brazil.

Ina Rottscheidt, ARD Rio de Janeiro, tagesschau, February 24, 2024 10:37 a.m

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