Cocaine Finds Africa

Antonio Maria Costa – The Washington Post

Copyright The Washington Post
July 29, 2008
West Africa is under attack. The region has become a hub for cocaine smuggling from Latin America to Europe. States that we seldom hear about, such as Guinea-Bissau and neighboring Guinea, are at risk of being captured by drug cartels in collusion with corrupt forces in government and the military.
With the exception of cannabis in Morocco, Africa never used to have a drug problem. That has changed, however, in the past five years. Around 50 tons of cocaine are being shipped from the Andean countries to Europe via West Africa every year — and that is a conservative estimate. Actual amounts could be at least five times higher. The volume seized is rising sharply: from 266 kilograms in 2003, to 3,161 in 2006, to 6,458 in 2007. This steep increase will no doubt continue. This month alone, more than 600 kilos were seized in a plane with fake Red Cross markings at the airport in Freetown, Sierra Leone, and at the international airport in Bissau, several hundred boxes were unloaded from a jet.
The profiteers in this illicit trade — mostly but not only Latinos — stand out on the streets of West African towns. They drive luxury cars, buy up the best hotels and are building haciendas and other opulent examples of “narcotecture.”
Law enforcement has been helpless against this onslaught. Drug planes don’t have to fly below the radar, because in most cases there is no radar (or electricity). Soldiers sometimes help smugglers by closing airports and unloading the cargo. Police cars run out of gas when giving chase or are left in the dust by smugglers’ all-terrain vehicles. There are no local navies to intercept the ships coming from Latin America or to chase the 2,000-horsepower boats that speed drugs up the coast to Europe. Traffickers are seldom brought to trial; in some cases, there are no prisons to put them in. Even when they are charged, they are usually released because evidence is not collected or needed laws are not in place.
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