Despite being better armed and trained (many Mexican Zetas are former special forces soldiers, and several Guatemalan Zetas have been identified as former Kaibiles), it is considered unlikely that they would put themselves in such a vulnerable position, risking an eventual MS takeover. Nor is it considered likely that they would trust crucial operational information to gang members with suspect loyalties. It is easy to game out a situation wherein the Zetas would feel pressured to increase the MS profit share in order to prevent them from becoming a liability: You want us to create a distraction in Escuintla while you are moving a shipment through Huehuetenango? Fine. Now pay us double or we call our boys off the streets.
There is a reason that traffickers have largely kept the maras at bay, aside from the obvious benefit of using them for local distribution. If the Zetas, or any other major drug traffickers, want to remain feared, they will never let other groups — like the gangs — believe they are needed as means to an end.
Lesson nine: In the world of narcotrafficking, there will be temporary alliances, but this is a competitive arena and long-term treaties are rare and difficult to achieve.
Money is the cornerstone of any drug trafficking operation. It takes significant resources to produce and deliver multi-ton cocaine shipments, hire the transportation service, employ a private army for protection and coordinate collection of drug proceeds from end users in the United States.
So, how does all of that money make its way back south?
First and foremost, a considerable percentage stays in the United States, helping to support the banking system, as reported by a June 2010 Bloomberg.com article. But much of it makes the trip back home one way or another.
According to the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO), U.S. border authorities seize less than one percent of the drug money that physically crosses the southwest border to Mexico each year. And that shouldn’t be surprising. If your resources are spent trying to keep the drugs out, what is left over to keep the money in? And that free flow of illegally earned money continues throughout the route back home.
In Guatemala one small-scale money trafficking scheme allows $4 million to flow through La Aurora Airport every month, with individuals hired to carry the legal limit of cash to Panama on flights every day. Again, it’s entirely legal.
Once the money returns to Mexico, Central and South America, it provides the capital for producers to grow, process and transport more drugs.
Money also allows traffickers to buy the weapons necessary for their trade. And most of those guns are purchased in the United States. In Guatemala, between 2006 and 2009, one out of every three weapons seized was traced back to purchases in the U.S.
U.S. federal authorities say that firearms seized at the U.S. southern border are generally found in small amounts, and often just a single gun. At least one third of those confiscated at the boarder are assault rifles. Of course, some borders with a high traffic flow make it impossible to check every car. With guns as with money, if you spend the majority of your resources trying to stop drugs from getting into the United States, you find you have fewer resources to check what is returning south.
Last April, Mexico reported that in the last five years it tracked 68,000 seized firearms back to purchases in the U.S. In June 2011, Mexican President Felipe Calderón claimed that 80 percent of firearms seized since late 2006 were purchased in the U.S.
Possibly these weapons are all being smuggled across the land border to Mexico, but it is worth speculating about other methods as well. Is it likely that those speed boats, aircraft and submarines are actually returning to their home ports with empty cargo holds?
Lesson number ten is to always remember that this business tracks in a circular motion. A demand for drugs pulls cocaine and synthetics north, and a demand for weapons provides a pull back down south. In both directions, billions of dollars change hands and thousands upon thousands of lives are lost in the process each and every year. And all along the innumerable northbound and southbound routes are corrupt officials and the constant threat of violence to keep the system running despite the number of high-profile arrests trumpeted on the front pages of newspapers from Colombia to California and beyond.
So, in the end, Walther Overdick will likely spend the rest of his life incarcerated. While outside the prison walls, the game he played for so long will go on and on and on.
That’s Drug Trafficking 101.