Things That Matter

Here’s Everything You Need To Know About How Mexican Drug Cartels Are Entering the Wildlife Trade

While we often associate drugs like heroin, cocaine, or marijuana when we think about drug cartels in Mexico, now many drug cartels have been moving into other profitable industries.

Last month, the United States government suspended avocado imports because of cartel involvement in the industry and, according to a recent article in National Geographic, Mexican drug cartels are now trafficking in fish and exotic animals. 

The article reported that drug cartels have taken a liking to the fishing industry the most, where cartels first started exhorting poachers of illegal fish, then moved on to smaller fishing companies, and now have seized control of large fishing companies. 

According to a report released by the Brookings Institution, the Sinaloa Cartel and the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) work through local proxy groups in the Mexican state of Baja California Sur to control various parts of the fishing industry from exotic fish to the fish served at tourist restaurants in the region. 

Because of the political power that cartels have built in the region, they often take the place the state typically has in enforcing order through violence. This is no different when it comes to fishing. The Brookings Institution report says they are now enforcing laws regarding overfishing and even making sure that those fishing have the proper credentials. 

However, the report also says they have taken part in overfishing and have reportedly bribed the Mexican government agency in charge of regulating the fishing industry. Cartels have even been reported to kidnap owners of some fishing businesses in the area. 

The National Geographic article also mentioned that cartels in southern Mexico may have gotten involved in the illegal trade of Jaguar body parts because they are often seen as trophies. Jaguars, an endangered species, have been found missing paws, teeth, and other body parts in the region.

Organized crime expert Vanda Felbab-Brown told National Geographic that while it has not been confirmed that cartels are involved in the jaguar trade, it could signal the future expansion of cartels. 

“It’s important to put out even circumstantial evidence of this happening to have an early warning — to encourage people to start looking for it and to be alert so we don’t discover all of a sudden that 500 jaguars are gone from Mexico.” Felbab-Brown told National Geographic.

Felbab-Brown told Forbes in an interview that many of the businesses profiting off of this industry are based in China, where there is a market for rare fish and animal parts because of their use in Chinese traditional medicine. It also serves as a hub for money laundering.

But one of the most shocking things about cartel involvement in the wildlife trade is the ways that drugs are getting mixed up in the trade. According to National Geographic, the cartels will often trade fish for chemicals needed to make drugs and pay fishers with drugs instead of money. 

All of this comes at a time when environmental activists and land defenders, those who protect the wildlife and communities close by, are under attack in Mexico.

According to the nonprofit Global Witness Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries for environmental activists and at least 30 were killed last year, many of whom are indigenous. It looks like the continued involvement of cartels in the wildlife trade will only make it more dangerous for those who stand up against environmental exploitation.   

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