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What If Drugs Were Legal?

September 10, 2012 Leave a comment

Africa: The New Mexico?
Mexico became the centre of cocaine trafficking only relatively recently. Before that, drugs were smuggled directly from Colombia to Florida. Once this became heavily policed the US’s hunger for cocaine obviously didn’t cease, so traffickers kept up supply by finding alternative routes, the main being the Mexico/US border. 

Once cocaine was travelling through the country, not all of it made it to its customers in the US, creating the aforementioned ‘spill over markets’. As criminal gangs saw the financial potential in controlling the flow of drugs through their country, highly organized cartels emerged: bribing officials, murdering rivals and even pushing to control production of the drugs. 

The Mexican drug war, at its core, is about two numbers: 48,000 and 39 billion.The Mexican government updated its drug war  death toll on Wednesday, reporting that 47,515 people had been killed in drug-related violence since President Felipe Calderón began a military assault on criminal cartels in late 2006. Many of these being innocents caught in the cross fire, civilians live in fear, as the beheaded bodies of whistle-blowers hang from bridges, and naked, dismembered torsos are chucked onto the side of the road.

Drug use and trafficking is on the increase in Africa. What should be emphasised is the damage produced by the actual drug laws, this is what needs to be scrutinised and looked at from a new perspective.

Reports indicate that the amount of heroin in Africa is increasing dramatically. Seizures of the drug increased from 159kg in 2009 to 234kg in 2010 in Egypt, 8.5kg to 35kg in Kenya, and 104kg to 202kg in Nigeria. The presence of smuggled heroin in Africa is mirrored with the drugs increased use, particularly in Mauritius, Tanzania and the Seychelles.

Seizures of cocaine also increased, with the levels in East Africa increasing four-fold between 2005 & 2010. Although the data are scarce, it is anticipated that this had lead to an increase in use of the drug, particularly in countries where the economy is on the up.

Why did hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin start to arrive in Africa in the first place? The most likely explanation is that when policing on usual drug trafficking routes became too heavy, smugglers discovered the alternative method of taking the drugs through Africa. These drugs were of course destined for Europe: a continent with a near insatiable desire for both heroin and cocaine. The adoption of new trafficking routes has created what is described as ‘spill over markets’, with countries not 
deemed as the final destination for a drug starting to create demand for it themselves.

However, the drugs are not what should be emphasised. The main concern with this increased trafficking and use is that parts of Africa will start to resemble Mexico; that is to say, turn into war-torn areas with cartels fighting for dominance over smuggling routes; pump millions into the pockets of criminals; and have local and national laws undermined by the lure of corruption and the power of avaricious politicians.

These consequences are effects of the way that drugs are controlled as opposed to the drugs themselves. The attempt to quell the supply of cocaine in the US and subsequent lack of dip in demand caused the alternative routes to be developed once the originals had been constricted, and the drugs’ illegality perpetuated the crime and violence that surrounds them. All signs indicate that a similar situation will arise in areas of Africa, with traffickers continuing to push heroin and cocaine into Europe.

Three options are available: dramatically reduce, if not extinguish, Europe’s demand for cocaine and heroin; focus policing efforts on these new trafficking routes; or take the control of the drugs out of the hands of criminals via a form of legalisation and regulation.

The first option is not plausible, or at least cannot be addressed here. Humans have taken drugs for thousands of years, and it seems that they will continue to do so. 250million people took an illicit substance last year, continuing the steady year-by-year increase.

Focusing law enforcement on these new routes seems futile. Traffickers are intelligent, resourceful and most importantly adaptive. In a similar vein to the ‘balloon effect’; the phenomenon of when pressure is put on drug production in one area, it expands in another, pressure on one trafficking route will simply send more drugs through another.

It is only the final option that seems to show any promise. In fact, this is the one that many South and Central American countries are now calling for. It is predicted that allowing the state to control the production and sale of drugs would dramatically decrease the violent side effects of keeping such substances in a state of illegality. If customers could get their product from a trusted and reliable source, they would have no need to purchase it from criminals. Indeed, who buys illegal moonshine when you can buy a reputable brand?

It is crucial that our drug laws do not create another Mexico, whether it be in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria, Egypt, Morocco; or all of these. The results would shatter Africa, perhaps in an even worse fashion than that of Mexico. Just as the continent is starting to boom economically, a crisis like this will reverse its nations’ development.

Categories: If Drugs Were Legal

Drug cartels Using Subs in West Africa

September 5, 2012 Leave a comment

Drugs traffickers for whom West Africa is a handy transit point between Latin America and Europe are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their attempts to avoid law enforcers says a United Nations anti-narcotics official Drug traffickers are turning to subs and other methods to avoid detection as they ship ever-greater quantities of cocaine via West Africa from the production fields of South America to the markets of Europe.

“We are not talking about military vessels here, but rather smaller ones which can be bought freely on the international market by anybody who has a couple of million dollars to spare,” said Alexandre Schmidt, regional head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).He was speaking during a drugs summit dubbed the West Africa Coast 
Initiative held in Senegal this week.

According to UNODC figures, based on seizures, 35 tons of cocaine were transited through West Africa in 2009, down from 47 tons the previous year. But Schmidt warned that the apparent fall in volumes could be down to the cartels’ improved capacity for hiding their activities.

It is estimated that the value of the trade through West Africa was now $800 million a year and rising. Schmidt warned that drugs cartels were threatening to turn West Africa into another Mexico, a country that has become a byword for drug-related violence. “What we are seeing in West Africa is like what we saw in Mexico,” he said.

West Africa is a largely poor part of the world and the value of the illegal drugs moving through the region dwarfs some national economies.He added that cases of local cocaine use were also on the rise and it was becoming, “a huge issue for public health” in West Africa.

U.S. Drug War Expands to Africa

September 5, 2012 Leave a comment

WASHINGTON — In a significant expansion of the war on drugs, the United States has begun training an elite unit of counternarcotics police in Ghana  and planning similar units in Nigeria and Kenya as part of an effort to combat the Latin American cartels that are increasingly using Africa to smuggle cocaine into Europe.

The growing American involvement in Africa follows an earlier escalation of antidrug efforts in Central America, according to documents, Congressional testimony and interviews with a range of officials at the State Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration  and the Pentagon.

In both regions, U.S officials are responding to fears that crackdowns in more direct staging points for smuggling — like Mexico and Spain — have prompted traffickers to move into smaller and weakly governed states, further corrupting and destabilizing them.

“We see Africa as the new frontier in terms of counterterrorism and counternarcotics issues,” said Jeffrey P. Breeden, the chief of the D.E.A.’s Europe, Asia and Africa section. “It’s a place that we need to get ahead of — we’re already behind the curve in some ways, and we need to catch up.”

The initiatives come amid a surge in successful interdictions in Honduras since May — but also as American officials have been forced to defend their new tactics after a commando-style team of D.E.A. agents participated in at least three lethal interdiction operations alongside a squad of Honduran police officers. In one of those operations, in May, the Honduran police killed four people near the village of Ahuas, and in two others in the past month American agents have shot and killed smuggling suspects.

To date, officials say, the D.E.A. commando team has not been deployed to work with the newly created elite police squads in Africa, where the effort to counter the drug traffickers is said to be about three years behind the one in Central America. The United Nations says that cocaine smuggling and consumption in West Africa have soared  in recent years, contributing to instability in places like Guinea-Bissau. Several years ago, a South American drug gang tried to bribe the son of the Liberian president to allow it to use the country for smuggling. Instead, he cooperated with the D.E.A., and the case resulted in convictions in the United States.

American counternarcotics assistance for West Africa has totaled about $50 million for each of the past two years — up from just $7.5 million in 2009, according to the State Department. The D.E.A. also is opening its first country office in Senegal, officials said, and the Pentagon has worked with Cape Verde to establish a regional centre to detect drug-smuggling ships.

While the agency has not sponsored units in West Africa before, it has long worked with similar teams — which are given training, equipment and pay while being subjected to rigorous drug and polygraph testing — in countries around the world whose security forces are plagued by corruption, including the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala and Panama. West Africa is now facing a situation analogous to the Caribbean in the 1980s, where small, developing, vulnerable countries along major drug-trafficking routes toward rich consumers are vastly under-resourced to deal with the wave of dirty money coming their way.

Drug Trafficking Rising in Central Africa

September 4, 2012 Leave a comment

In Cameroon, officials with the International Criminal Police Organization,Interpol, blame a surge in the drug trade on an an ongoing crackdown on traffickers in neighbouring West Africa. 

Lawrence Tang Enow, an Interpol Regional Training Officer and a Senior Cameroonian Police Superintendent, said, “A few decades or years ago, it was zero. After some time, we started seizing a few grams. Now we got to a situation where, last year, we seized 140 kilograms.”

Those figures are for Cameroon alone. He said intelligence reports based on border police and customs data across the sub-region show increasing quantities of Europe-bound cocaine, as well as more frequent arrests of dealers and suspects. 

According to the sub-regional branch of Interpol, the South American cartels and local allies are exploiting institutional and structural weaknesses to turn Central Africa into a transit hub on their “cocaine route” to Europe. They are able to take advantage of poor policing at ports and outdated traveller and cargo inspection equipment, porous land and sea borders, as well as corruption within security and customs institutions. 

In February, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, UNODC, estimated that cocaine smuggling in West and Central Africa generates some 900 million USD annually, up from 800 million in 2009. 

Elsewhere, the US Drug Enforcement Administration, DEA, said in a report published last year that new players, including the Maghreb branch of al-Qaida [AQMI] and Nigeria’s Islamic terrorist group, Boko Haram, were getting increasingly involved in cocaine trafficking to raise money for their activities, or were being bankrolled by the traffickers for support.

According to Interpol officials, such connections set an even more dangerous precedent for the sub-region. Conrad Atefor Ntsefor, a police commissioner with the Interpol Central Africa Sub-regional Bureau in Yaounde, said “When they come in, they influence the politics of countries, they influence criminal activities, [and promote] corruption, and it’s a serious problem.”

The US Drug Enforcement Agency states that the money generated by underworld organizations sometimes outstrips the state budgets of some African countries, and is easily used to buy off government officials. 

“If you know what it means in terms of money; it is a lot,” said Ntsefor. “So the fear is that if we don’t act and act in time, this phenomenon will become a very serious cankerworm.”

Interpol additionally warns that the region risks surges in piracy off its coasts, illegal arms circulation, human trafficking and general instability as a result of the traffickers’ invasion. It is currently forming partnerships with the police and customs departments of various countries. Together they will work to coordinate intervention strategies and update databases on the movements and activities of suspects. Interpol is also encouraging prompt information-sharing to facilitate the hunt for traffickers. 

Commissioner Ntsefor says that, gradually, the efforts are paying off. 

“When we [learn] how the operations in various countries work,” he said, “we share that intelligence and better coordinate through our secure communications systems. I must admit that is what has been the driving force for the arrest of drug traffickers.”

The effort adds to sporadic crackdowns being organized simultaneously across West and Central Africa and Latin America by the World Customs Organization, UNODC and Interpol. Between November and December 2011, one of the joint operations conducted in 25 airports in West-Central Africa and Brazil led to the arrest of over 50 suspects, the seizure of over 500 kg of cocaine, heroin, amphetamines, guns, counterfeit medicines, ivory and over 3.2 million dollars in cash.

Experts say replicating such clampdowns will ultimately discourage the traffickers.

The African Connection

August 28, 2012 Leave a comment

The deadly cocaine trade always follows the money, and its cash-flush traffickers seek out the routes that are the mostly lightly policed.

Beset by corruption and poverty, weak countries across West Africa have become staging platforms for transporting between 30 tons and 100 tons of cocaine each year that ends up in Europe, according to U.N. estimates. 

Drug trafficking, though on a much smaller scale, has existed here and elsewhere on the continent since at least the late 1990s, according to local authorities and U.S. enforcement officials.Earlier this decade, sea interdictions were stepped up. So smugglers developed an air fleet that is able to transport tons of cocaine from the Andes to African nations that include Mauritania, Mali, Sierra Leone and Guinea Bissau.What these countries have in common are numerous disused landing strips and makeshift runways — most without radar or police presence. Guinea Bissau has no aviation radar at all. As fleets grew, so, too, did the drug trade.

The DEA says all aircraft seized in West Africa had departed Venezuela. That nation’s location on the Caribbean and Atlantic seaboard of South America makes it an ideal take-off place for drug flights bound for Africa, they say.

A number of aircraft have been retrofitted with additional fuel tanks to allow in-flight refueling, a technique innovated by Mexico’s drug smugglers. (Cartel pilots there have been known to stretch an aircraft’s flight range by putting a water mattress filled with aviation fuel in the cabin, then stacking cargoes of marijuana bundles on top to act as an improvised fuel pump.)

Ploys used by the cartel aviators to mask the flights include fraudulent pilot certificates, false registration documents and altered tail numbers to steer clear of law enforcement lookout lists, investigators say. Some aircraft have also been found without air-worthiness certificates or log books. When smugglers are forced to abandon them, they torch them to destroy forensic and other evidence like serial numbers.

The evidence suggests that some Africa-bound cocaine jets also file a regional flight plan to avoid arousing suspicion from investigators. They then subsequently change them at the last minute, confident that their switch will go undetected.

One Gulfstream II jet, waiting with its engines running to take on 2.3 tons of cocaine at Margarita Island in Venezuela, requested a last-minute flight plan change to war-ravaged Sierra Leone in West Africa. It was nabbed moments later by Venezuelan troops, the report seen by Reuters showed.

Once airborne, the planes soar to altitudes used by commercial jets. They have little fear of interdiction as there is no long-range radar coverage over the Atlantic. Current detection efforts by U.S. authorities, using fixed radar and P3 aircraft, are limited to traditional Caribbean and north Atlantic air and marine transit corridors.

The aircraft land at airports, disused runways or improvised air strips in Africa. One bearing a false Red Cross emblem touched down without authorization onto an unlit strip at Lungi International Airport in Sierra Leone in 2008, according to a U.N. report. When police searched the aircraft, some 600kg (1,320lb) of cocaine was discovered along with gallons of fuel and several AK47 and AK48 rifles were discovered with 339 rounds of cartridges.The spokesman said roadblocks were set up and police later arrested seven foreign nationals – three Colombians, two Mexicans, a Venezuelan national and a US citizen – in a car 10km (six miles) from the airport.

Late last year a Boeing 727 landed on an improvised runway using the hard-packed sand of a Tuareg camel caravan route in Mali, where local 
officials said smugglers offloaded between 2 and 10 tons of cocaine before dousing the jet with fuel and burning it after it failed to take 
off again.For years, traffickers in Mexico have bribed officials to allow them to land and offload cocaine flights at commercial airports. That’s now 
happening in Africa as well. 

In July 2008, troops in coup-prone Guinea Bissau secured Bissau international airport to allow an unscheduled cocaine flight to land, according to Edmundo Mendes, a director with the Judicial Police.

“When we got there, the soldiers were protecting the aircraft,” said Mendes, who tried to nab the Gulfstream II jet packed with an estimated 
$50 million in cocaine but was blocked by the military.

“The soldiers verbally threatened us,” he said. The cocaine was never recovered. Just last week, Reuters photographed two aircraft at Osvaldo Vieira International Airport in Guinea Bissau — one had been dispatched by traffickers from Senegal to try to repair the other, a Gulf-stream II jet, after it developed mechanical problems. Police seized the second aircraft.

One of the clearest indications of how much this aviation network has advanced was the discovery, on November 2, of the burned out fuselage 
of an aging Boeing 727. 

Local authorities found it resting on its side in rolling sands in Mali. In several ways, the use of such an aircraft marks a significant advance for smugglers.Boeing jet liners, like the one discovered in Mali, can fly a cargo of several tons into remote areas. They also require a three-man crew — a pilot, co pilot and flight engineer, primarily to manage the complex fuel system dating from an era before automation.

Hundreds of miles to the west, in the sultry, former Portuguese colony of Guinea Bissau, national Interpol director Calvario Ahukharie said 
several abandoned airfields, including strips used at one time by the Portuguese military, had recently been restored by “drug mafias” for 
illicit flights.

“In the past, the planes coming from Latin America usually landed at Bissau airport,” Ahukharie said as a generator churned the feeble air-conditioning in his office during one of the city’s frequent blackouts.

“But now they land at airports in southern and eastern Bissau where the judicial police have no presence.”

Ahukharie said drug flights are landing at Cacine, in eastern Bissau, and Bubaque in the Bijagos Archipelago, a chain of more than 80 islands off the Atlantic coast. Interpol said it hears about the flights from locals, although they have been unable to seize aircraft, citing a lack of resources.

The drug trade, by both air and sea, has already had a devastating impact on Guinea Bissau. A dispute over trafficking has been linked to the 
assassination of the military chief of staff, General Batista Tagme Na Wai in 2009. Hours later, the country’s president, Joao Bernardo Vieira,
was hacked to death by machete in his home.

Asked how serious the issue of air trafficking remained for Guinea Bissau, Ahukharie was unambiguous: 

“The problem is grave.”The situation is potentially worse in the Sahel-Sahara, where cocaine is arriving by the ton. There it is fed into well-established overland trafficking routes across the Sahara where government influence is limited and where factions of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb have become increasingly active.

The group, previously known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, is raising millions of dollars from the kidnap of Europeans. Analysts say militants strike deals of convenience with Tuareg rebels and smugglers of arms, cigarettes and drugs. According to a growing pattern of evidence, the group may now be deriving hefty revenues from facilitating the smuggling of FARC-made cocaine to the shores of Europe.

Cops bust West African drug syndicate

August 25, 2012 Leave a comment

A MAJOR crime syndicate with tentacles reaching West Africa has allegedly been smashed by the NSW Drug Squad.

A year-long undercover operation was set up last year into the West African organised-crime syndicate allegedly importing and supplying 
‘’ice’’ .

Police say the arrest of seven Sydney men has dismantled the syndicate dealing in “ice” in a  two-day operation in Sydney and Adelaide.

Strike force Bellevue  was set up early last year to investigate the alleged involvement  of  the crime syndicate from West Africa. 

About 2pm yesterday, an undercover police officer met with four men in the car park of a hotel in Bankstown. Police will allege the men supplied the officer with two kilos of a drug believed to be “ice” in exchange for a sum of money.

Police from the Tactical Operations Unit subsequently arrested three men – aged 47, 40 and 35 – at the scene. 

The fourth man, aged 37, fled in a vehicle, but was arrested a short time later after the car crashed into the front fence of a nearby 
residence. All four men were charged with supply prohibited drug (large commercial quantity) and refused bail to appear in Bankstown Local Court today..

Drug Squad detectives also executed search warrants at two premises in Adelaide last night, assisted by South Australian Police.

Further search warrants were carried out this morning at  Riverwood, Bexley, Granville, Chiswick and Quakers Hill. 

As a result, Strike Force Bellevue detectives arrested another three men: a 43-year-old at the Riverwood address; a 42-year-old at the Bexley address; and a 45-year-old at the Granville address.

They are all expected to be charged today with supply prohibited drug (commercial quantity).

Categories: Australia

Africa-Bound Cocaine Seized in Ecuador

August 22, 2012 Leave a comment

Police in Ecuador announced the seizure of 400 kilograms of cocaine bound for West Africa.

Police found the drugs in the port city of Guayaquil, located in Guayas province, reported El Comercio.

Bound in 360 packages stamped with the logo of an apple and the letter V, the cocaine was hidden among containers full of fish and octopus.

Two Ecuadorian nationals were arrested in the operation, but police believe more suspects are still at large.

Documents indicated that the cargo was bound for Benin, a country in West Africa. The seizure is the latest indication of the region’s increased importance for the drug trade. West Africa is used as a departure point to ship cocaine in Europe, where the high-value Euro allows drug cartels to earn bigger profits than trading in dollars. An estimated $800 million in drugs passes through the region each year.

Besides Ecuador, other South American countries like Brazil have observed trafficking links between local groups and Africa. On August 1, Brazilian authorities arrested 24 people trying to travel to Angola, while carrying ingested cocaine capsules.

While Guayas is one of Ecuador’s smaller provinces, its access to Guayaquil’s poor has made it a centre of Ecuador’s drug trafficking industry. One of 24 provinces, Guayas accounted for over 10 tons, or about 65 percent of the country’s cocaine seizures so far this year, compared with the rest of the country. Ecuador may yet be on track to see a record year for cocaine seizures, following a record 65 tons confiscated in 2009.