No to organised crime

COMMENT: Make no mistake, organised crime has a strong interest in gaining influence in port gateways and ports have to be vigilant in order to ensure that this does not happen, writes Mike Mundy.

Nowhere is this problem more prevalent than Mexico where in June this year, after an absence of 41 years, Mexico’s Marines were given back control of the country’s 103 ports. This follows on from 2016 reforms enacted by Mexico’s Senate allowing the Navy to take back control of the country’s ports. The Navy Secretariat (La Secretariat de Marina – SEMAR) is now responsible for all maritime and port ‘security functions’ which include the authorisation of the arrival and departure as well as inspection of vessels. The Secretariat of Communications and Transportation is in charge of all economic aspects.

This handing over control of the security aspects of port activities to the military signals a recognition by government of two key realities. Firstly, that ports are currently major channels through which significant volumes of drugs, weapons and other contraband pass, and secondly, that the Marines are a more reliable agency via which to try and contain these problems.

The view is widely held that the presence of organised crime in Mexico’s ports has grown considerably without the presence of such a strong agency as the Marines, particularly in recent years.

There are no illusions, however, that this change in control will serve to displace organised crime overnight. Ports such as Manzanillo in the state of Colima and Lazaro Cardenas in Michoacan are seen as hot-beds of crime with entrenched criminal interests. According to the country’s Tax Administration Service, about one sixth of all drug seizures occur at the ports of Manzanillo and Lazaro Cardenas. Seizures tripled in 2016, compared with 2015 with 13 tons of cocaine found.

The determination of the drug cartels not to concede territory easily is also brought home by the shocking reality of the murder of Jose Luis Corro Chavez, head of the Port Captaincy of Lazaro Cardenas in 2015. He had been trying to regain control of the port and was murdered outside his home.

Handing control of commercial ports to a military agency is an extreme solution to fighting organised crime. It is clearly better to implement comprehensive measures to prevent this situation but in Mexico’s case it is perhaps the only viable course of action to fight the problem.

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