Africa’s White Economy Part 7

August 21, 2012 Leave a comment

Colombian Cement
Organized crime and cement often go together, but in Guinea Bissau this happens in an untraditional way. The cement importing and sales company, SOMEC, was salvaged by Colombian Juan Pablo Camacho, a convicted drug trafficker who spent five years in prison in Miami on drug trafficking charges. He and his partner, Luis Fernando Ortega Mejia, bought the company that had been ruined in 1998 by Guinea Bissau’s civil war.

Camacho and Mejia were both detained in September 2006 in the biggest bust the country had ever seen. The Judiciary Police seized firearms, ammunition, grenades, laptops, 674 kilos of cocaine and $39 million in various currencies. Unusual, for a cement company. Carmelo Vasquez Guerra, a Venezuelan, was the DC9’s pilot who was said to have “escaped” from the airport while his airplane was being seized, 
and four other members of his crew were arrested.


But  Bissau isn’t the only country to arrest Vasquez Guerra for the presumably major offense of flying box-car sized loads of cocaine, 
only to be forced–or persuaded–to let him go. It’s happened in Mexico. and Mali, where he was released under mysterious and unexplained circumstances. 


The Colombians, were also able to walk away. The cocaine and money were stored in the treasury vaults, for safekeeping. The next day, the army seized both the drugs and the cash, and the evidence vanished. No evidence, no case. The Colombians were freed, thanks to Carlos Lopes Correira and Armando Mango, the same lawyers who defended Augusto Bliri.

Camacho denied every accusation and said that his wife and five children, who were still in Bogotá, would soon arrive in Bissau and that he planned to live there for the next few years. The Colombians are said to have left the country since, skipping bail, but the suspicion is that they still trade drugs, through a local network.

The Bissau-Conakry Strategy
Several years ago, two long-friends met in Guinea Conakry to talk about some business opportunities. They were Lasana Conte and Joao Vieira, the presidents of Guinea Conakry and Guinea Bissau. It was 2006 and cocaine trafficking in West Africa was at a development stage.


President Lasana Conte proposed that his counterpart Nino Vieira come on board, and then easily convinced him to allow Latin American traffickers to use Guinea Bissau as point of transit for their business. The profits would be huge, the risks minimal.

In late December 2008, Conte died, after almost forty years of dictatorship. A few hours after his death, a bunch of soldiers seized power in a coup d’etat. According to this new, untried military junta that has ruled Conakry since the coup, the overall goal is to clean up the country from corruption and extirpate cocaine trafficking — and to do so before the next scheduled elections, in 2010.

On February 26th, three days before Viera was killed, Lasana Conte’s oldest son Ousmane was arrested by the military on drug charges. He confessed on national television his involvement in drug trafficking, admitting his ties with some Colombian partners.


Ousmane Conte’s trial was broadcast on TV because the junta is trying to convince the Guinean people that they’re doing something necessary for their country, something good.  It is a sort of propaganda. But according to some analysts at the UN Office of Drug Control, this is really a strategy to put the South American traffickers out of the game — to open a new era of African drug trafficking organized by Nigerians and Guineans, in cooperation with Guinea Bissau and Conakry armies.

The vacuum left by the double assassination of Vieira and Tagme and the situation in Conakry opens a new scenario in West Africa. The big plan is to transform the whole region into a sort of traffickers’ paradise, a dangerous plan that may seriously destabilize West Africa, leading to new conflicts in a region that is trying to heal from bloody civil wars from the past decade in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ivory Coast.

Crack and Prostitution, Cocaine’s other Face
I drive through Reno, Bissau’s poorest slum, heading to Justino’s house. He’s 16 and a crack addict. Justino started to smoke quisa, as they call crack in Bissau, one year ago with his sister, Sadia. Now they both spend the whole day smoking the drug. Since they started, their old lives vanished. Justino lost his job and Sadia began to sell her own body. It’s 10 a.m. when I park my car in front of their house. Sadia waits by the door, holding her cachimbo, the crack pipe that has become her best friend. All around the house it’s garbage, rotten water and pigs.


This sounds like any other crack story, but there’s a difference: We are in Guinea Bissau, a place where crack was totally unknown until traffickers decided three years ago to target this country.

Sadia’s eyes are lost into the emptiness that surrounds her life. She waits for her brother to bring the drug. He comes with a friend and they immediately start smoking. I sit on the house floor with them. Sadia stretches out on a mattress while Justino and his friend feed the pipe; they start the ritual, which lasts at least 40 minutes.
They completely ignore me. They ignore everything but the cachimbo. Their entire lives revolve around the drug.


The situation in Bissau is particularly sad. There is no prevention, no rehabilitation. The issue is so new that there is no data available. It’s impossible to say how many people are lost in crack addiction. And mostly, there is no consciousness among the people about the long-term effects of this plague. 

I meet Sadia and her group of friends at Baiana’s, at night. They are all prostitutes, all crack addicts. They spend most of the time waiting for a client to take them to a brothel. At one point a white, brand new, four-wheel-drive Toyota parks in front of the restaurant. On the doors, the Portuguese flag and the logo from the Cooperacion Portuguesa. The driver and his friend sit to drink some beers when Nadi and Tusha, two of Sadia’s friends, join the men. They will leave a few minutes later, on the jeep.


Prostitution in Bissau is not for locals. Nobody can afford to pay a prostitute, and in the local culture, women cannot refuse a man. All the clients are foreigners. Sometimes sailors from anywhere, but mostly people who work for NGOs, the UN or Embassy employees. Almost every night I shared a coffee with Nadi, Tusha, Sadia, Fatima, Carolina and other prostitutes. They are somewhat proud of their work, and they see crack addiction as a minor issue. Smoking a cigarette or doing quisa – it’s just the same, to them.

They all dream of going to Europe – to Spain or Portugal or Italy. Nadi has a daughter who lives in Spain. She had the child with a Spanish businessman who used to travel to Bissau often: she doesn’t live with her child but says she is happy all the same, for the 250 Euros per month she receives from the father. At least she has monthly revenue.


Nuno (an alias name) is a Portuguese sailor. He used to work on a ship but was forced to stay in Bissau after he fought with the captain. He asked his family to send him money to come back, but then got lost into alcohol. He’s a usual client of the girls and he has AIDS. He’s always drunk and spends his nights at the Baiana before heading off with two or three girls. The alarming issue is that none of the prostitutes that I met use condoms.

Since cocaine arrived in Bissau crack has spread, prostitution has increased and so has HIV-AIDS. Drug trafficking has destroyed the precarious political stability of Guinea Bissau and destroyed the lives of thousands of people. They are paying the price of Europe’s voracious appetite for coke.
Marco Vernaschi

Murder of Venezuelan Diplomat in Kenya

August 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Murder of Venezuelan Diplomat in Kenya Linked to Drug Trafficking
Anonymous Kenyan officials claimed that the recent murder of Venezuela’s interim ambassador to the country is linked to an international drug 
trafficking scheme involving top Venezuelan diplomats.

On August 6, Kenyan authorities charged senior Venezuelan diplomat Dwight Sagaray (pictured) with the murder of interim Venezuelan ambassador Olga Fonseca Gimenez. Fonseca’s body was found in her official residence in Nairobi on July 27, and a Kenyan investigator told Reuters that the motive behind the killing was “jostling for positions in the embassy.” Fonseca had been at the post for less than two weeks before her death, having taken over from the previous ambassador, who left amid accusations of sexual harassment. Sagaray denies the charges against him.

However, the Kenyan Star reports that police in the African nation believe Fonseca’s death was linked to a drug trafficking ring run by 
Venezuelan diplomats. According to the Star, Venezuelan embassy officials had been using diplomatic pouches — which are exempt from customs inspection under international law — to smuggle drugs into Kenya, where they were sold to local traffickers.

Fonseca allegedly put a stop to this upon taking office, a decision which “reportedly caused friction in the embassy and may have contributed 
to her murder.” The paper claims that its police sources asked to remain anonymous for fear of sparking a diplomatic dispute between the two 
countries.

Sinaloa Cartel

August 1, 2012 Leave a comment

The Sinaloa Cartel, often described as the largest and most powerful drug trafficking organization in the Western Hemisphere, is an alliance of some of Mexico’s top capos. 

The coalition’s members operate in concert to protect themselves, relying on connections at the highest levels and corrupting portions of the federal police and military to maintain the upper hand against its rivals.

The state of Sinaloa has long been a center for contraband in Mexico, as well as a home for marijuana and poppy cultivation. Nearly all of the trafficking organizations in Mexico have their origins in the region. They were, in essence, a small group of farming families that lived in rural parts of the state. In the 1960s and 1970s, they moved from the contraband trade into drugs, particularly marijuana. One of the first to traffic marijuana in bulk was Pedro Aviles, who later brought his friend’s son, Joaquin Guzman Loera, alias “El Chapo,” into the business.

Guzman implemented an ambitious plan. This began with a meeting Guzman organized in Monterrey with, among others, Ismael Zambada, alias “El Mayo,” Arturo Beltran Leyva and Juan Jose Esparragoza Moreno, alias “El Azul.” The four men are more than trafficking partners, they are of the same blood: cousins by marriage, brothers in law, or otherwise connected via the small communities they come from, which is why their group is often referred to as the “alianza de sangre” (blood alliance).


Together they planned the death in 2004 of Rodolfo Carrillo Fuentes, who was one of the heads of the Juarez Cartel. The group of traffickers, who authorities used to call the “Federation,” now operates in 17 Mexican States, numerous cities in the United States, and from Guatemala to Argentina. By some estimates, it operates in as many as 50 countries.

Categories: The Cartels

Colombia Offers Africa Security Advice

Colombia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said they were willing to share strategies with Africa for fighting organized crime, as the region is now a primary bridge for cocaine heading to Europe.

Foreign Affairs Minister Maria Angela Holguin made the comments during a four-day seminar in Bogota on fighting drug trafficking in Colombia and West Africa. While Colombia’s top police officials were present, as well as US agents like the DEA director for its Andean field offices, the Ministry did not specify which representatives from African nations were present.

Holguin said that Colombia’s experience in strengthening its law enforcement institutions could provide a helpful case study for Africa. She added that Colombia is still struggling to fight terrorism, drug trafficking and organized crime, but that the country could still provide useful advice and support for other nations facing the same problems. 

She did not specify whether this proposed cooperation would include training courses for the security forces in some African countries.·

Colombia’s offer to play an advisory role to Africa is another sign of just how important that continent has become for transnational drug traffickin groups. Last year, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said that Africa is now a major transit area for cocaine being sent to Europe, and local African groups are playing an increasingly significant role in the business, displacing the South American traffickers. Brazil in particular has become an important bridge for cocaine 
exports headed to southern Africa. 

Two Half Tonnes of Cocaine Seized in The Gambia

At least two tonnes of cocaine with a street value estimated at $1bn has been seized in The Gambia, bound for Europe.

In addition to the huge haul of drugs, the Gambian authorities have arrested a dozen suspected traffickers, and seized large quantities of cash and arms.

Gambian investigators made the first arrests then called in British agents to gather forensic evidence.

West Africa has become a major transit hub for trafficking Latin American drugs to markets in Europe.

Drugs cartels are taking advantage of the region’s poverty and weak security and judicial systems.

Agents from the UK’s Serious Organised Crime Agency – the rough equivalent of the US FBI – helped discover the haul of highly concentrated cocaine behind a false wall in a warehouse basement an hour’s drive from the Gambian capital, Banjul.

Update

The Gambia has sentenced eight foreigners to 50 years each in prison for trying to smuggle over two tonnes of cocaine from Latin America to Europe.

The eight – four Venezuelans, two Dutch, a Nigerian and a Mexican – were held last year in a fishing village following the seizure of the cocaine.


Another suspect – a Venezuelan – died in jail on Sunday, days before a court passed the sentence. The West African state is a notorious transit point for drug traffickers.

In his judgement, Magistrate Lamin Tabally said The Gambia was determined to curb trafficking.

“The Gambian government has made its position known on issues relating to drug trafficking and, as a result, I am going to send a signal to other drug traffickers that The Gambia is a no-go area for them,” he said.

Harsher laws
One of the accused men, Dose Fermin, died at a prison in the capital, Banjul, on Sunday of natural causes, said the prison’s chief medical officer, Babucar Jatta.

They were arrested in June 2010 in a fishing village near Banjul after 2.1 tonnes of cocaine was found hidden in a warehouse belonging to a fishing company.

Last year, Attorney General Edward Anthony Gomez said the government would introduce harsher laws to curb the illegal drug trade, including the death penalty for anyone convicted of possessing more than 250g of cocaine or heroin.

The West African coast has emerged as a busy route for drugs from Latin America to Europe, with cartels taking advantage of the region’s poverty and weak judicial systems.

Are You A Bleacher?

Skin lightening (bleaching) cosmetics and toiletries are widely used in most African countries. The active ingredients in these cosmetic products are hydroquinone, mercury and corticosteroids. 


Several additives (conconctions) are used to enhance the bleaching effect. Since these products are used for long duration, on a large body surface area, and under hot humid conditions, percutaneous absorption is enhanced.

Corticosteroids: Side Effects and Adverse Reactions  The potent effect of corticosteroids can result in serious side effects which mimic Cushing’s disease, a malfunction of the adrenal glands resulting in an overproduction of cortisol. 

The list of potential side effects is long and includes:
increased appetite and weight gain, deposits of fat in chest, face, upper back, and stomach water and salt retention leading to swelling and edema
high blood pressure, diabetes, black and blue marks, slowed healing of wounds, osteoporosis, cataracts, acne, muscle weakness, thinning of the skin, increased susceptibility to infection, stomach ulcers, increased sweating, mood swings, psychological problems such as depression
adrenal suppression.

Hydroquinone Side Effects and Adverse Reactions
In 2001 hydroquinone was banned as an ingredient in cosmetics after it was shown to cause leukemia in mice and other animals. The mechanism of permanent whitening with hydroquinone is known for centuries. In 500 B.C. in Iran, farmers and civil workers used pure hydroquinone to keep their skin white and soft. Hydroquinone whitens skin by killing skin pigment cells. It is a strong inhibitor of melanin production, meaning that it prevents skin from making the substance giving skin its colour.

The mechanism of permanent whitening with hydroquinone is known for centuries. In 500 B.C. in Iran, farmers and civil workers used pure hydroquinone to keep their skin white and soft. Hydroquinone whitens skin by killing skin pigment cells. It is a strong inhibitor of melanin production, meaning that it prevents skin from making the substance giving skin its colour.


Side Effects
Severe allergic reactions (rash; hives; difficulty breathing; tightness in the chest; swelling of the mouth, face, lips, or tongue); blistering; blue-black darkening of the skin; excessive redness, stinging, or irritation.

Mercury Side Effects and Adverse Reactions
Some of the mental and physical effects of chronic exposure to mercury are known to us all, immortalised in Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter in ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Mercury salts were used historically in the manufacture of felt hats and absorption of these compounds through the skin gave rise to body burdens sufficient to cause the symptoms of madness among this profession. Likewise, the use of mercury salts in the 19th Century for the treatment of syphilis gave rise to severe side effects and many deaths.

Symptoms Characteristic of Low-Dose Mercury Exposure
For fetuses, infants, and children, the primary health effect of methylmercury is impaired neurological development. Methylmercury exposure in the womb, which can result from a mother’s consumption of fish and shellfish that contain methylmercury, can adversely affect a baby’s growing brain and nervous system. Impacts on cognitive thinking, memory, attention, language, and fine motor and visual spatial skills have been seen in children exposed to methylmercury in the womb. 

In addition to the subtle impairments noted above, symptoms of methylmercury poisoning may include, impairment of the peripheral vision;
disturbances in sensations (“pins and needles” feelings, usually in the hands, feet, and around the mouth), lack of coordination of movements,
impairment of speech, hearing, walking; and muscle weakness,
tremors, emotional changes (e.g., mood swings, irritability, nervousness, excessive shyness), insomnia, neuromuscular changes (such as weakness, muscle atrophy, twitching), headaches, disturbances in sensations, changes in nerve responses.

Categories: Are You A Bleacher?.

Africa’s White Economy Part 6

Organized crime and cement often go together, but in Guinea Bissau this happens in an untraditional way. The cement importing and sales company, SOMEC, was salvaged by Colombian Juan Pablo Camacho, a convicted drug trafficker who spent five years in prison in Miami on drug trafficking charges. 

He and his partner, Luis Fernando Ortega Mejia, bought the company that had been ruined in 1998 by Guinea Bissau’s civil war. Camacho and Mejia were both detained in September 2006 in the biggest bust the country had ever seen. The Judiciary Police seized firearms, ammunition, grenades, laptops, 674 kilos of cocaine and $39 million in various currencies. Unusual, for a cement company.


The Colombians, however, were able to walk away. The cocaine and money were stored in the treasury vaults, for safekeeping. The next day, the army seized both the drugs and the cash, and the evidence vanished. No evidence, no case. The Colombians were freed, thanks to Carlos Lopes Correira and Armando Mango, the same lawyers who defended Augusto Bliri.

Camacho denied every accusation and said that his wife and five children, who were still in Bogotá, would soon arrive in Bissau and that he planned to live there for the next few years. The Colombians are said to have left the country since, skipping bail, but the suspicion is that they still trade drugs, through a local network.

The Bissau-Conakry Strategy
Several years ago, two long-friends met in Guinea Conakry to talk about some business opportunities. They were Lasana Conte and Joao Vieira, the presidents of Guinea Conakry and Guinea Bissau. It was 2006 and cocaine trafficking in West Africa was at a development stage.

President Lasana Conte proposed that his counterpart Nino Vieira come on board, and then easily convinced him to allow Latin American traffickers to use Guinea Bissau as point of transit for their business. The profits would be huge, the risks minimal.

In late December 2008, Conte died, after almost forty years of dictatorship. A few hours after his death, a bunch of soldiers seized power in a coup d’etat. According to this new, untried military junta that has ruled Conakry since the coup, the overall goal is to clean up the country from corruption and extirpate cocaine trafficking — and to do so before the next scheduled elections, in 2010.

On February 26th, three days before Viera was killed, Lasana Conte’s oldest son Ousmane was arrested by the military on drug charges. He confessed on national television his involvement in drug trafficking, admitting his ties with some Colombian partners.

Ousmane Conte’s trial was broadcast on TV because the junta is trying to convince the Guinean people that they’re doing something necessary for their country, something good.  It is a sort of propaganda. But according to some analysts at the UN Office of Drug Control, this is really a strategy to put the South American traffickers out of the game — to open a new era of African drug trafficking organized by Nigerians and Guineans, in cooperation with Guinea Bissau and Conakry armies.The vacuum left by the double assassination of Vieira and Tagme and the situation in Conakry opens a new scenario in West Africa. The big plan is to transform the whole region into a sort of traffickers’ paradise, a dangerous plan that may seriously destabilize West Africa, leading to new conflicts in a region that is trying to heal from bloody civil wars from the past decade in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ivory Coast.

Crack and Prostitution, Cocaine’s Other Face
I drive through Reno, Bissau’s poorest slum, heading to Justino’s house. He’s 16 and a crack addict. Justino started to smoke quisa, as they call crack in Bissau, one year ago with his sister, Sadia. Now they both spend the whole day smoking the drug. Since they started, their old lives vanished. Justino lost his job and Sadia began to sell her own body. It’s 10 a.m. when I park my car in front of their house. Sadia waits by the door, holding her cachimbo, the crack pipe that has become her best friend. All around the house it’s garbage, rotten water and pigs.

This sounds like any other crack story, but there’s a difference: We are in Guinea Bissau, a place where crack was totally unknown until traffickers decided three years ago to target this country.

Sadia’s eyes are lost into the emptiness that surrounds her life. She waits for her brother to bring the drug. He comes with a friend and they immediately start smoking. I sit on the house floor with them. Sadia stretches out on a mattress while Justino and his friend feed the pipe; they start the ritual, which lasts at least 40 minutes. They completely ignore me. They ignore everything but the cachimbo. Their entire lives revolve around the drug.

The situation in Bissau is particularly sad. There is no prevention, no rehabilitation. The issue is so new that there is no data available. It’s impossible to say how many people are lost in crack addiction. And mostly, there is no consciousness among the people about the long-term effects of this plague. 

I meet Sadia and her group of friends at Baiana’s, at night. They are all prostitutes, all crack addicts. They spend most of the time waiting for a client to take them to a brothel. At one point a white, brand new, four-wheel-drive Toyota parks in front of the restaurant. On the doors, the Portuguese flag and the logo from the Cooperacion Portuguesa. The driver and his friend sit to drink some beers when Nadi and Tusha, two of Sadia’s friends, join the men. They will leave a few minutes later, on the Jeep.

Prostitution in Bissau is not for locals. Nobody can afford to pay a prostitute, and in the local culture, women cannot refuse a man. All the clients are foreigners. Sometimes sailors from anywhere, but mostly people who work for NGOs, the UN or Embassy employees. Almost every night I shared a coffee with Nadi, Tusha, Sadia, Fatima, Carolina and other prostitutes. They are somewhat proud of their work, and they see crack addiction as a minor issue. Smoking a cigarette or doing quisa – it’s just the same, to them.


They all dream of going to Europe – to Spain or Portugal or Italy. Nadi has a daughter who lives in Spain. She had the child with a Spanish businessman who used to travel to Bissau often: she doesn’t live with her child but says she is happy all the same, for the 250 Euros per month she receives from the father.

Nuno (an alias name) is a Portuguese sailor. He used to work on a ship but was forced to stay in Bissau after he fought with the captain. He asked his family to send him money to come back, but then got lost into alcohol. He’s a usual client of the girls and he has AIDS. He’s always drunk and spends his nights at the Baiana before heading off with two or three girls. The alarming issue is that none of the prostitutes that I met use condoms.


Since cocaine arrived in Bissau crack has spread, prostitution has increased and so has HIV-AIDS. Drug trafficking has destroyed the precarious political stability of Guinea Bissau and destroyed the lives of thousands of people. They are paying the price of Europe’s voracious appetite for coke.

Marco Vernaschi