At the beginning of May the Mexican authorities detained the 73,700 dwt Jian Hua with this following on from the earlier seizure of 119,000 tonnes of iron ore in storage at the port.
At the end of April the Mayor of Lazaro Cardenas was arrested and accused of kidnapping, extortion and links to organised crime and in November last year federal troops took over the security and customs functions at the port of Lazaro Cardenas and remain in charge today.
The main aim of these measures is to eradicate the influence of the violent criminal organisation the Knights Templar, whose base of operations is the south western state of Michoacan where the port of Lazaro Cardenas is located.
Knights Templar, through the corruption of customs and other officials, has been using the port of Lazaro Cardenas for the extensive import and export of illegal drugs. The iron cargoes are one of many ‘business diversifications’ by the cartel but as the Jian Hua shipment proves are illegal in that the documentation associated with this cargo showed production at a mine that is not yet authorised for legal operation.
For years the state of Michoacan has basically been lawless and the area around the port of Lazaro Cardenas has been a battleground between the various drug gangs with the Knights Templar being in ascendancy since 2010.
Since, however, the entry of federal agencies into the state, and notably the Mexican navy into the port of Lazaro Cardenas, the influence of Knights Templar has gone into severe decline. The cartel has basically lost control of its biggest business. They have also felt the wrath of a public uprising, the sharp end of which are armed vigilantes backed by federal forces.
The optimistic view is that the port of Lazaro Cardenas will become ‘clean’ again with the demise of Knights Templar and the arrangements it had with other drug cartels. The negative view is that another cartel will step into Knight Templar’s shoes and the port will again find itself under external control and home to illegal activities.
The lesson here, as independent organisations such as Control Risks emphasise, is that it is a few relatively short steps before a major port gateway can be comprehensively penetrated by criminal organisations. The conditions that created an opening for Knights Templar are not unusual in Latin America in Control Risks’ view.
For these reasons, and many others associated with port efficiency, it is very important to have secure and professional agencies active in ports that are specialists in security and border management. It is also important to realise in this context that considerable assistance is available from external agencies such as the World Customs Organisation (WCO) to establish the proper controls and security checks. Further, that it is often only by the use of independent agencies or organisations that comprehensive experience and know-how can be deployed to achieve this – the arms’ length approach which can circumvent internal corruption.
If corrupt elements are in place there will inevitably be resistance to change but an external agency forcing the pace of change, based on global experience, will play a major part in overcoming such elements.
Taking the WCO as an example, among other things it functions as a forum for dialogue and exchange of experiences between national Customs delegates. The WCO offers its members a range of conventions and other international instruments, as well as technical assistance and training services provided either directly by the secretariat, or with its participation. The secretariat also actively supports its members in their endeavours to modernise and build capacity within their respective national Customs administrations.
The WCO’s efforts to combat fraudulent activities are also recognised internationally. The partnership approach championed by the WCO is one of the keys to building bridges between Customs administrations and all the stakeholders in the transport chain. Source: Port Strategy