Has Cartel Violence Arrived in Britain?

This weekend saw a horrific shooting take place in London. An attacker injured six by firing a shotgun from a car outside St Aloysius Church, near Euston. Those shot were attending a memorial service for a mother and daughter.   

One of the shooter’s victims was a seven-year-old girl, who is now in hospital. The Metropolitan Police said it arrested a 22-year-old man for attempted murder. Authorities described the shooting as a “senseless” act and asked the rhetorical question of who could do such a thing.   

This morning’s reporting appears to suggest a reason: violence between criminal gangs, in this case related to the Colombian Cali cartel. One of the two women mourned at the memorial service, Fresia Calderon, the mother of Sara Sanchez, used to be married to Carlos Arturo Sanchez-Coronado. He was described by the Times as ‘A Colombian cartel “delivery man” who helped to flood the UK with cocaine’. 

Sanchez-Coronado was jailed in the UK in 2009 after admitting three charges of laundering money and using false passports for a London gang closely linked to the Cali cartel. He later left the country and is believed to have died abroad, in South America, last year.  

Little more is known and gaps will remain until the man in custody is named and charged. But if this does prove to be an episode of cartel brutality, it does not bode well for Britain. Episodes of cartel violence rarely go unanswered.   

Recent years have seen a significant increase in the reach of South and Central American cartels in Mexico and the United States. For almost a decade, Mexican cartels have dominated the drugs trade in major US cities. Cartels have been linked to a spate of kidnappings and murders across America. In Mexico the estimate for crime-related deaths since 2006 is 150,000. The bloodshed is not the aim of this domination; selling drugs is. But the violence arrives inevitably on its heels. Whenever drug trafficking meets the law, or other gangs, violence is the inevitable result. 

In Mexico, footage this month has shown a Sinaloa cartel member using a Barrett anti-materiel rifle to try to shoot down a police helicopter after the arrest of the cartel’s leader, Ovidio Guzmán López, the son of Joaquín Guzmán, otherwise known as El Chapo. This kind of force is now appearing across Europe, with kidnappings, murders and extortion increasingly commonplace. Cartel violence is beginning to affect daily and political life in Antwerp and Rotterdam.   

It seems Britain has not been spared. 

American authorities have given billions of dollars to Mexico in the past decade and a half to help close down cartel violence and the drugs trade. This has had some dampening effect, but its growth seems inexorable. 

Now it has reached Europe and Britain. It is vital for policymakers to acquaint themselves rapidly with this kind of violence. It has a long history in the Americas. It could be here to stay. 

This piece was originally published in the New Statesman.

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