Ridesharing and the Drug Trade in Mexico
Is ridesharing safe in Mexico? We have covered ridesharing in Mexico more generally in our article 5 Reasons Ridesharing in Mexico is Dangerous and here we address the specifics of how ridesharing is used by criminal enterprises. If you use ridesharing in Mexico you are sharing the platform with members of the drug trade. This has been known among security professionals in Mexico for some time but has barely been mentioned in the press.
Is this because ride-sharing itself is bad? Actually, the opposite. Ridesharing is so efficient and convenient to move people that it has become the latest innovation in the ever evolving “plan hormiga” (“ant plan” in English).
What is plan hormiga? Plan hormiga is what happens when drug traffickers pay attention and learn from history. Moving drugs and cash in semi-trucks and freight-ships is necessary when you are making enough money to be considered a Fortune 500 company. But is a bad risk management strategy if all your goods are reliant on big and vulnerable shipments.
To hedge this risk, traffickers use a distributed logistics system where they transport small amounts of goods (drugs or money) across multiple types of transport. This could range from using fisherman to move product down a river in Ecuador to using hundreds of couriers on scooters and mopeds. The idea is that no one seizure or mistake is going to have a material impact on your business.
Some form of plan hormiga has been around as long as there have been people motivated to move or operate under the radar of a government or kingdom. To avoid the detection of the British Army, the Japanese massed a force in Malaya and Singapore by moving soldiers and weapons on bicycles. During the Vietnam War, the Ho Chi Minh trail wasn’t single a trail, but rather a distributed logistical system that used whatever form (truck, beast of burden, human back) to move soldiers and materials of war into South Vietnam.
It is amazing what human beings can accomplish (good and bad) when there are strong incentivizes in place to succeed and devastating consequences for failure. The genius of the plan hormiga or the Ho Chi Minh Trail, is that setbacks are not failure. The system is so fluid that a failure in what part of the system can be quickly compensated for by shifting to other better performing parts of the system.
Ridesharing is a very fluid system. The low barriers for getting onto the platform mean that people who are involved in the drug trade can join and because it is a “gig” and not a career, it is less difficult to recruit drivers that are already on the platform. But even better, the drivers don’t need to volunteer to be part of plan hormiga. A rideshare driver in Mexican border town may do what he can to avoid picking up a trafficker or moving product, but the driver has no ability to screen out a specific passenger. And once the driver shows up, there is no turning down a trafficker.
Is ridesharing enabling the drug trade? Well, yes and no. Drug traffickers have shown they can be as brutal and sadistic as any enemy the U.S. has faced in our history and even though the American citizen isn’t the target of their brutality they are a threat to humanity. Any major platform that enables them to operate is part of the problem.
But unlike the bank or wire transfer company that know they are profiting handsomely from doing millions of $9,999 transfer to Mexico every day (they know what they are doing!), ridesharing isn’t doing anything deliberate and doesn’t want to be part of plan hormiga. For this reason, some might bristle at using the phrase “enabling the drug trade”. But we don’t judge companies or people for enabling bad things they could not have foreseen. We judge them on how they react once something is known.
Right now, most people don’t know ridesharing is being used as a drug logistics system. Breitbart is one of the only news outlets that has reported on Uber and drug trafficking. Why the mainstream media is not covering this issue is likely political. I speculate that just as Breitbart has an agenda about how to portray what is happening on the Border, the mainstream media and the “chamber-of-commerce Republicans” have a different agenda (they are aligned in their agenda but not the reason for the agenda).
It is not known what the ridesharing companies are doing to address the illegal use of their platforms. In places like Brazil, we have seen some reaction and changes to policies to react to crime. In Mexico, I suspect that policy will only change if the headlines start to appear or if the death toll reaches a level that can’t be ignored. It won’t take long for the public to put two and two together when a ridesharing driver is assassinated in a gangland style hit. In the meantime, U.S. corporations that are encouraging or allowing their employees to use ridesharing services in should consider whether it is wise to move their people on a system they are sharing with the traffickers.
For more information about ridesharing in Mexico, check our article 5 Reasons Why Ridesharing in Mexico is Dangerous.