Turkey becomes a major transit point for Latin American cocaine
For Latin American cartels looking to sell their cocaine in European markets, Turkey is poised to be the next major transit point, according to new analysis from Insight Crime.
“Although still secondary players in Europe compared to the Italian and Albanian mafias, Turkish networks have taken the lead in supplying the smaller but developing global cocaine markets, pushing South American powder to Eastern Europe, the Caucuses and the oil-rich states of Persia. Gulf,” the report said.
According to Insight Crime, there are a number of factors that make Turkey well positioned to become a major player in the trade.
One is experience. Turkish organized crime has long been a leader in the heroin trade, pioneering the so-called “Balkan route” that today transports riches from Afghan poppy fields to Europe.
“Since the 1960s, Turkish traffickers have dominated the global heroin trade, establishing both deep networks of corruption at home and a criminal tapestry of port contacts, logistics networks and distribution gangs across the country. Europe,” the report said. “By the 1980s, this had consolidated into the so-called ‘Balkan Route’: a modern, multi-branch silk road that carried opiates from Afghanistan and Iran, across the Turkish landmass and to Europe via the Balkans.
A second factor is their connections. After the merger of the Balkan route in the 1980s, Turkish organized criminals came into contact with their Latin American counterparts, creating a thriving heroin-for-cocaine barter economy.
“While the Turks may not have had the longstanding local connections enjoyed by the Italian mafias, their superb shipping infrastructure meant they didn’t need to outsource smuggling and could ship their own cocaine to Europe,” the report explains.
A third was the growing demand for the drug in nearby areas.
“Closer to home, in the mid-2010s, the modest cocaine market was growing in the Middle East, with seizures increasing markedly in neighboring Syria, Lebanon and Israel, and doubling in the region in 2016,” indicates the report.
Over time, militant groups with a strong presence in Turkey, such as the Turkish nationalist “Gray Wolves” and the Lebanese Hezbollah, have also found themselves present in Latin America, working to make the cocaine trade another source of funding for their operations in their country.
Since then, kilos and kilos of cocaine have been seized to and from Turkey.
“Turkish and foreign law enforcement seized record quantities of cocaine from South America to Turkey, exposing the growing role of the country’s powerful traffickers in transiting drugs to European and Middle East markets. East,” Insight noted.