MEXICO CITY — Organized crime is mutating in Mexico as gangs who steal oil and sell drugs try a lucrative new line of work trafficking people, according to a top official fighting money laundering.
Santiago Nieto, head of Mexico’s financial intelligence unit (UIF), said his team had discovered that some of the country’s most notorious cartels had branched out into sex trafficking, especially ones whose core business faced disruption.
“A lot of criminal groups are mutating,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation at the unmarked office building that houses the UIF, responsible for unearthing illicit funds.
“When one possibility ends ... they start to link up with other kinds of criminal activities,” Nieto said in an interview conducted at distance in his office.
Mexico is an origin, transit and destination country for human trafficking, a global business estimated to be worth $150 billion a year.
Yet relative to the drugs trade, little is known about the shadowy groups in Mexico that deal in people.
High-profile cases often involve smaller, family-based U.S.-Mexico networks rather than the big cartels that grab headlines.
The Guanajuato-based Santa Rosa de Lima gang dedicated to tapping oil pipelines later turned to extortion and got involved in a table dancing bar staffed by trafficked women, Nieto said.
He said the Mexico City Tepito Union drug gang had similarly branched out to guard women forced into commercial sex.
Nieto traced the web of criminal activities across a meter-wide sheet of paper with a complex diagram linking bank transfers, trips and shell companies that supported the rackets.
Human trafficking may be the third-largest illicit activity in Mexico, after drugs and guns, he estimated.
To help combat what is a fast-growing crime, Nieto said U.S., Canadian and Mexican financial intelligence teams had planned joint meetings, but the pandemic had put that on hold.
Coerced or deceived into exploitation
While it is often confused with consensual smuggling, trafficking victims are coerced or deceived into exploitation.
There have been isolated reports of drug cartels forcing men and women to cultivate or pack drugs and work as lookouts or hit men. But anti-trafficking justice efforts in Mexico have focused on sexual exploitation and been patchy.
The UIF has collaborated mostly with the latter two states, Nieto said, and presented four cases to the attorney general’s office, responsible for federal prosecutions.
A fifth would be presented imminently, he added, related to an investigation into members of the Light of the World Church, whose head Naason Joaquín García faced U.S. charges of rape and trafficking that were thrown out this month.
Nieto said progress on prosecuting federal cases was slow.
“We haven’t seen that they’ve advanced much,” he said. “It has to change for the good of the country, we need a more proactive attorney general’s office.”
Mexico’s attorney general’s office did not respond to a request for comment. The Light of the World church did not reply to a request for comment.
In March, the church’s lawyers had said that legal issues with the UIF were being resolved in their favor in court.
García had always denied the U.S. charges.
High volumes of cash and difficulty in securing arrest warrants made trafficking cases tricky, Nieto said, voicing hope that current cases go to trial so he could move on to new ones.
“The judges and public prosecutors have to realize how bad this issue is, trafficking at the end of the day is about...human life,” he said.
[SAD FOR SURE. KIDS WITH HOPE AND IDEAS, IMPRISONED, MANIPULATED AND CONTROLLED USUSALLY BY FORCEFUL DRUG INDUCTION. THOSE HOPES FADE, BUT NOT THE HUNGER FOR THE NEXT HIT. THIS IS REALLY END OF LIFE OPPORTUNITY FOR THE YOUNGEST. THE MOST VILE OF CRIMES IN MY OPINION, PREYING NOT ON THE MARKET, BUT INTENTIONAL MANIPULATION OF THE UNKNOWING]
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About, 1995-6 , when I worked in jail mental health unit, I met two attractive young women arrested by INS. They told me they were headed to NYC to serve as maids for a wealthy person. They sincerely believed this because they trusted the person who got them the job. The girls were from poor decent upbringing , but not worldly at all. I was called to interview them because I am bilingual and often called to translate in certain cases.
I did my best to clue them in to what was very probably going to be their fate. They got, big-eyed, scared ... and came to agree that they had been scammed. We went back and forth a bit, and they finally agreed to be deported back to Venezuela.
They, both sincerely thanked me for saving g hem from becoming white slaves.
BTW: The entrapment of girls from poor countries to become sex workers goes way back in time and big problem during the huge immigrations of the early 1800s. As many know, the West had whore houses everywhere there were men in need of sex (think of western movies without cat-houses). Many of these places included women not far removed from the old country.
Nothing new under the sun.
BTW,#1. I learned that wealthy American homosexuals gay men from Mexico and 3rd world countries to work as cooks, houseboys, valets, gardeners, etc.... I knew several of these "guys" who were delighted to have such jobs... and saw them as win--win situations where your queer Ness and job skills were both rewarded.
How come the liberal MSM and Hollywood ignores this interesting and huge phenomena? It would also make for interesting books, movies.. But wait, Hollywood would be spitting into the wind on such stories....We can't have that. Can We?
BTW #2. As in #1 above, I also learned that there was "chain migration" involved because Mexican gay men are tight with each other and get jobs for their friends with their connections in this network.
In reply to this post by Parro
I’m kind of dumbfounded by NBC titling this as something new...
Perhaps some newer cartels/gangs are moving into human trafficking, who weren’t doing it before, but everyone knows cartels have been trafficking MANY migrants over the years.
Thank you for sharing. It’s always interesting to see how these groups are “diversifying” any chance they can.
It matters not how a man dies, but how he lives.
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