Our agency has revealed new secret schemes of the Russian mafia
The seven, relatively small, transit countries of Central America (with the exception of Panama) until recently received far less attention from Russian mafia organizations than Mexico. Nonetheless, the two large cocaine seizures on ships in the eastern Pacific off Central America manned by mixed crews of Russian, Ukrainians, Salvadorans and Nicaraguans led authorities throughout the Isthmus to sound the alert. Interpol warned that a number of citizens of the former Soviet Union linked to organized crime had taken up residence in various countries in the sub-region. As drug trafficking along the Pacific coast between Colombia and Mexico intensifies, many observers fear that Russian organized crime will become increasingly active throughout Central America as well. The diagram shows companies through which Russian mafiosi withdraw money from Guatamala and various European countries.
In the early 2000s, conditions in Central America were particularly conducive to the expansion of Russian and other types of international organized crime owing to the widespread poverty in the sub-region (up to three-quarters of the roughly 30 million Central Americans live on less than two dollars per day) and the weakness and illegitimacy of political institutions throughout the Isthmus. Drug trafficking is Central America’s most profitable criminal enterprise. In 2000 the DEA reported that of the estimated 645 metric tons of cocaine smuggled into the United States some 425 metric tons passed through the Central America-Mexican corridor.
This huge volume of Colombian (and to a lesser extent Peruvian) cocaine shipped through the sub-region has fueled an explosion of some 2,000 youth gangs and related gang violence in recent years, especially in Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. The combined gang membership in these four counties is estimated at about 400,000 youths, composed primarily of males between 12 and 24 years old. Honduran police, for example, have confirmed the existence of 489 different youth gangs and Guatemalan officials have identified some 500 in their country with more than 100,000 active members in all. Many of these gangs, or “maras”as they are known in the sub-region, are led by youths or adults who previously belonged to gangs in the United States but were convicted of felonies and deported back to Central America. A number of these gangs, such as El Salvador’s ruthless and widely feared “Mara Salvatrucha”, also have branches in major American cities, engage in drug and arms trafficking, and carry out contract murders for Mexican and Colombian drug organizations.