The Chinese presence in any region of the planet is nowadays a fact. A report by the World Economic Forum states that China invested between 2003 and 2017 more than 110.00 million dollars in Latin America and the Caribbean, being the main trading partner of Argentina, Chile, Peru and Uruguay, and the second of Mexico. Most of the Chinese investment in this region was concentrated in Brazil followed by Peru, Argentina, Cuba and Jamaica, according to the Latin American and Caribbean Academic Network on China.
These numbers show how China impacts these countries and their economies, but it can also indicate more. For example, the number of Chinese immigrants in Latin America, which is a great enigma due to the incompetence of the receiving states of these communities, or even complicity, as happened in Venezuela under the leadership of Hugo Chávez who documented with Venezuelan passports a large number of Chinese citizens to guarantee their votes in elections a few years after taking office, in the first decade of 2000.
In Argentina there are Chinese criminal gangs or triads (三合会). Pixiu (貔貅，which means protector) operates in Buenos Aires, and is basically dedicated to the extortion of the owners of Chinese food stores in exchange for protection. Its modus operandi is retaliation to those who do not pay their quota, either with shots in the legs, fire of properties or death. Its members are all Chinese (come from China or born in the diaspora), the mediators are Chinese too, but the hit men in most cases are of other nationalities to avoid being related to the crime. As in all communities, they are established in small groups that have their own compatriots under pressure.
For a long time, the South American security forces ignored this danger, but in recent years more attention is being paid because they have been able to verify links of the triads with organizations such as Primeiro Comander da Capital (a very dangerous Brazilian criminal organization) and with Mexican cartels such as Los Zetas, Sinaloa or the Cartel de Juárez.
The activities of these groups are focused on the trafficking of people, who move from China to South America and many of whom work hard to pay for their trips. Another practice is money laundering; the Chinese mafias help the South American cartels to launder large sums using companies created in China and Hong Kong through international transfers.
The triple border, that curious T-shaped area formed by the meeting of the Iguazú River with the Paraná River separating Brazil from Argentina and leaving Paraguay to the west, according to Vanessa Neuwmann, president of the consulting firm Asymmetrica, is a mini state that benefits a corrupt elite while works as a large money laundering centre, efficient for organized crime and tobacco trafficking, and a money production machine for groups such as Hezbollah. Neuwman maintains that the leaders of the Paraguayan trade through the triple border are Chinese and Lebanese. The Colombian FARC, on the other hand, have also been benefited from the triple border and the free market areas in the Caribbean and Panama to mobilize contraband.
During the conversation that 4Asia held with Neuwmann, she assured us that the tobacco traffic comes mostly from Horacio Cartés’s factories in Paraguay and travels to China on mysterious flights departing from the Guaraní airport, located in the eastern city of Paraguay -in the triple border-. These planes land there loaded with Chinese contraband clothing and appliances and return to China with tobacco. Newman is convinced that there must also be smuggling of Chinese weapons but claims that it has not been confirmed yet. “The smuggling of tobacco to China is a very complicated issue” she says, because the importation of foreign brands is prohibited. Technically it is a closed market controlled by the State. However, the Chinese military (PLA) has a system of corruption and illicit trafficking of tobacco that they take advantage of to finance themselves. Likewise, our interviewee assures that this illicit tobacco traffic benefits North Korea, a country that is sustained by all types of legal or illegal trade with China.
Even though the existence of criminal organizations and contraband are common practices in all states, the striking point is that these practices exist in states like China, which maintains excessive control and penalization of its citizens. The fact that Chinese military forces handle the smuggling of tobacco into their territory is known by the authorities, who could eradicate it and nevertheless allow it. Just as they have allowed the money laundering that has been taking place in China for years and that has opportunely favoured the growth of its economy.
The double standard of the Chinese State has been put into practice to promote the interests of the State and its perpetuation. (Traducción: Isabel Gacho Carmona)