Well, this is really cute. With refreshing honesty, Fortune magazine on Sept. 14 issued a list of the "Fortune 5"—the biggest organized crime groups in the world, ranked by their annual revenue estimates. No sources are given, but the Fortune editors presumably relied on international law enforcement intelligence. The results are slightly surprising for those of us who grew up in the era of the Sicilian Mafia and Medellín Cartel. Brave new crime machines have long since eclipsed these entities from the global stage, and far outstripped their earnings from human trafficking, extortion, credit card fraud, prostitution and (above all) drug smuggling. In the number one slot, by a mile, is Yamaguchi Gumi, a wing of Japan's Yakuza, with revenue estimated at $80 billion. A distant second is Russian mafia group Solntsevskaya Bratva, with revenue at $8.5 billion. Three and four are two Italian outfits that have long superceded Sicily's Cosa Nostra: the Camorra, based in Naples, with revenues of $4.9 billion; and the 'Ndrangheta, based in Calabria, with revenues of $4.5 billion. Number five is Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel, with revenues of $3 billion.
On Sept. 18 the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) released a number of classified articles from its in-house journal, Studies in Intelligence, including an article about "Dark Alliance," a 1996 series in the San Jose Mercury News that linked the CIA-backed Nicaraguan contra rebels to the sale of crack in South Central Los Angeles in the 1980s. Other US media, notably the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, harshly criticized the series' author, investigative reporter Gary Webb, noting, and often exaggerating, flaws in his reporting. Webb lost his job at the Mercury News and was never employed by a major newspaper again; he was found dead on Dec. 10, 2004 in an apparent suicide.
A record-breaking cocaine bust on Peru's Pacific coast points not only to the country's booming production, but also the increasing role of the Mexican cartels in the Andean narco economy. Peru's Interior Ministry announced the haul in a Sept. 1 statement, saying National Police and DEA agents had uncovered an unprecedented 7.6 metric tons of coke hidden in a shipment of coal at a warehouse in the northern fishing port of Huanchaco, Trujillo region. "This is the largest drug seizure ever in Peru," said Interior Minister Daniel Urresti, speaking at a Lima press conference below a banner reading "Historic Blow to Illegal Drug Trafficking" at the hanger where the shipment had been flown for incineration. "It's historic."
Colombian military brass held their first meeting with FARC guerilla leaders at peace talks in Havana Aug. 22. The meeting focused on the specifics of implementing a ceasefire and the eventual demobilization of the guerillas. Earlier in the week the guerilla leaders met, also for the first time, a group of war victims to discuss formation of a truth commission for the conflict. But Colombia's Prosecutor General Alejandro Ordoñez sent a letter to President Juan Manuel Santos criticizing creation of the Historical Commission on the Conflict and its Victims, fearing an outcome favoring the FARC’s version of events. (BBC News, Aug. 22; Colombia Reports, Aug. 21)
Central America's rainforests are being destroyed by drug traffickers who cut roads and airstirps on officially protected lands, according to a paper in the journal Science. The phenomenon, called "narco-deforestation," is occurring across large swaths of Guatemala and Honduras, and perhaps elsewhere. Erik Nielsen, an assistant professor in the School of Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability at Northern Arizona University, said: "Not only are societies being ripped apart, but forests are being ripped apart." He added that cattle ranches are being established on cleared land as fronts to launder drug money.
An official from the capital district government of Bogotá on March 28 called upon Colombia’s national government to open debate on broadening the policy of cannabis decriminalization. "We really need leadership from the Congress and the government to regulate the medicinal and recreational use of marijuana," said secretary general of the Bogotá mayor's office, Susana Muhamad. Despite efforts by the previous president Alvaro Uribe to roll back the policy, since 1994 cannabis has been decriminalized in small quantitites—recently established by the judiciary as up to 22 grams. However, sale and cultivation remain illegal. Muhamad appealed to current President Manuel Santos to examine lifting these limitations.
Colombia's National Police announced Jan. 24 the seizure of 1.2 tons of cocaine allegedly belonging to paramilitary group Los Urabeños in the northwestern department of Córdoba. The find came when police searched a truck at a checkpoint that had been established in Montería municipality. The interception was reportedly planned by police intelligence in advance. The two truck occupants who were arrested apparently tried to bribe the officers with $150,000. The agents also confiscated 6,800 gallons of biodiesel and 3,400 gallons of gasoline, worth around $30,000. The cocaine was reportedly en route to the port of Turbo in Urabá region, the Urabeños' heartland in the northern part of Antioquia department, and was intended for export to the US and Europe. The Urabeños are a "neo-paramilitary" group that remained in arms after the ultra-right paramilitary network was officially "demobilized" some 10 years ago. Authorities now consider the Urabeños Colombia's most powerful drug trafficking organization. (Colombia Reports, Jan. 24)
On Dec. 25, Bogotá-based online newspaper Las 2 Orillas ran photos scanned from old print editions of provincial daily El Meridiano de Córdoba that showed ex-president Álvaro Uribe Vélez posing with various figures linked to narco-trafficking and illegal paramilitaries. The shots, taken when Uribe was on the campaign trail in 2002, and earlier when he was governor of Antioquia, showed him with numerous figures later tainted by the "para-politics" scandal. One was Róger Taboada, first director of the scandal-plagued rural development bank FINAGRO, who stepped down following revelations he had approved a loan to Luis Enrique "Micky" Ramírez, the reigning drug lord of Caquetá department. Uribe also appeared with family members of now-imprisoned paramilitary warlord Salvatore Mancuso.