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Articles on this Page
- 05/04/14--11:44: _Africa's Narco State 3
- 05/26/14--13:30: _The Real Problem Wi...
- 05/26/14--13:31: _Cocaine The Alltern...
- 06/02/14--14:00: _Belize A Cautionary...
- 06/07/14--18:56: _Africa The Next Leg...
- 12/16/14--18:44: _The End Game
- 01/03/15--16:45: _The Sinaloa Cartel ...
- 06/18/15--16:26: _Kofi Annan Backs Ma...
- 07/14/15--15:16: _Kenya Akasha Cartel
- 07/14/15--17:52: _The African Smack T...
- 07/19/15--07:36: _Has The Failed War ...
- 04/24/14--05:12: _Narco Technology In...
- 04/24/14--06:08: _Africa Could Be The...
- 04/24/14--06:09: _West African Cocain...
- 04/24/14--06:09: _Cocaine Routes Are ...
- 04/24/14--06:11: _European Drug Use i...
- 04/24/14--06:13: _Mexico's Drug War
- 04/24/14--06:15: _ Narco-Corruption I...
- 04/30/14--12:59: _ Europe's Appetite ...
- 05/04/14--11:43: _Africa's Narco State 6
- 05/04/14--11:43: _Africa's Narco State 4
- 05/04/14--11:44: _Africa's Narco State 1
- 05/19/14--12:04: _Africa's Narco State 2
- 01/23/16--23:52: _DEA Confidential In...
- 02/07/16--02:54: _History Of The Mexi...
- 05/04/14--11:44: Africa's Narco State 3
- 05/26/14--13:30: The Real Problem With Drugs
- 05/26/14--13:31: Cocaine The Allternative Economy of West Africa
- 06/02/14--14:00: Belize A Cautionary Tale For Africa
- 06/07/14--18:56: Africa The Next Legal Marijuana Market?
- 12/16/14--18:44: The End Game
- 01/03/15--16:45: The Sinaloa Cartel Business Model
- 06/18/15--16:26: Kofi Annan Backs Marijuana Decriminalisation In West Africa
- 07/14/15--15:16: Kenya Akasha Cartel
- 07/14/15--17:52: The African Smack Track
- 07/19/15--07:36: Has The Failed War On Drugs Created An ISIS Reality In Mexico?
- 04/24/14--05:12: Narco Technology In West Africa
- 04/24/14--06:08: Africa Could Be The Next South America
- 04/24/14--06:09: West African Cocaine Routes To Europe
- 04/24/14--06:09: Cocaine Routes Are Wreaking Havoc In West Africa
- 04/24/14--06:11: European Drug Use is Fueling Addiction in West Africa
- 04/24/14--06:13: Mexico's Drug War
- 04/24/14--06:15: Narco-Corruption In Africa
- 04/30/14--12:59: Europe's Appetite for Cocaine
- 05/04/14--11:43: Africa's Narco State 6
- 05/04/14--11:43: Africa's Narco State 4
- 05/04/14--11:44: Africa's Narco State 1
- 05/19/14--12:04: Africa's Narco State 2
- 01/23/16--23:52: DEA Confidential Informants Operations In West Africa
- 02/07/16--02:54: History Of The Mexican Cartels
Hezbollah, al Qaida and the Lebanese Connection
The night-life in Bissau is usually so boring that sleeping is probably more exciting. After spending too many nights in my room I headed out one evening to the Palace Hotel -- a huge, Chinese-quality building on the way to the airport surrounded by a series of luxury bungalows that are always closed and empty.
A place like this, in a city like Bissau, makes no sense. On the hotel’s website there’s a quote from its owner, Algerian entrepreneur Tarek Arezki, declaring that he “wanted to achieve one of his dreams: to build a hotel.“ But why Bissau, the city that always sleeps, where in two months I didn’t see a single tourist and where business is so depressed that TAP, the only airline that flies to the country, operates just one flight a week?
The answer is evident in the hotel’s European-style disco-bar. This is the place in Bissau where drug traffickers and friends hang out at night, drinking bottles of whiskey that cost $100 and smoking puros imported from Cuba.
I decide to jump into the beating heart of Bissau’s night life when a drunken guy who speaks French drags me out of the bar. I realize the situation is tense when five other guys materialize out of the blue: they are all Lebanese, with few good intentions. They ask me what I was doing at the bar and what was the purpose of my visit to the country. They tell me they know I'm a journalist.
“We all know what the foreign journalists look for in this country and I know your name, so if I see anything published from you that mentions drug trafficking I will find you, wherever you are.”
When I tell him he can’t threaten me, he smiles and replies that this wasn’t a threat. It was simple advice. After that, he calls his friends to take a group-picture, all together, so he’d have a souvenir of the night. Of course I can’t refuse. When he holds me for the picture I feel his gun against my body.
The Palace Hotel became famous on Friday, January 11th 2008, when the French intelligence and the Judiciary Police arrested Ould Sinda and Ould Sidi Chabarnou, two al Qaida terrorists from the Maghreb wing of the organization, the Baqmi. They had killed a family of four French tourists in Mauritania and then fled to Bissau, with the aim of reaching Conakry. They spent some days at the Palace pretending to be businessmen and never left the hotel, probably waiting for a contact or for instructions.
The presence of the Lebanese community and the arrest of the two terrorists in Bissau are an alarming sign. Since the 9/11 attacks West Africa has been directly connected to the global anti-western jihadist ambitions of Osama Bin Laden. Al Qaida made logistical inroads into West Africa, seeking to radicalize regional Islamist sentiment and to benefit from the pervasive influence of organized crime.
Reports by Interpol and United Nations agencies detail evidence that cocaine traded through West Africa accounts for a considerable portion of the income of Hezbollah and Hamas, the Islamist movements based respectively in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. These reports say Hezbollah uses the Lebanese Shi’a expatriate population in South America and West Africa to guarantee an efficient connection between the two continents.
In Latin America, both Hezbollah and Hamas are particularly active in Ciudad del Este, on the “tri-border area” where Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay converge. This freewheeling border town is famous for cocaine trafficking, piracy and contraband goods, which are often smuggled across the Parana River into Brazil. Guinea Bissau is a strategically unique trait d’union between Latin America and Europe.
Operatives and supporters of Hizbollah are accused of being deeply involved in drug trafficking, smuggling and money laundering operations throughout South America and Africa by US military and intelligence officials. The officials point to a series of intelligence reports and the arrests of accused Hizbollah members as evidence that the group wields an unprecedented international fund-raising and operations network.
Working with US intelligence and anti-drug officials, Colombian authorities last October announced the arrest of at least 36 members of a cocaine-smuggling ring that trafficked drugs from Colombia and Brazil through way-stations in poor West African states by air, before sending the cargo on to Europe and the Middle East.
More than 100 suspects were arrested in Colombia and overseas on charges they trafficked drugs and laundered cash for Colombia's Norte del Valle cartel and for outlawed paramilitaries in a network that stretched from South America to Asia, the attorney's general office said.
Among those arrested in Colombia were three people suspected of coordinating drug smuggling to send some of their profits to groups such as Hezbollah, the office said.
Those suspects -- Chekry Mahmoud Harb, Ali Mohamad Abdul Rahim and Zacaria Hussein Harb -- used front companies to send drug cash overseas, it said without providing further details.
Chekry Harb, a Lebanese national who uses the nickname “Taliban”, was arrested as the leader of the group and described by Colombian and US authorities as a “world-class money launderer” who cycled hundreds of millions of dollars a year in drug proceeds through banks from Panama to Hong Kong to Beirut.
“The profits from the sales of drugs went to finance Hizbollah,” Gladys Sanchez, the lead investigator in Bogota, told the Los Angeles Times in October. “This is an example of how narco-trafficking is of interest to all criminal organisations.”
In South America, businesses run by members of sizeable Shiite communities in Colombia, Venezuela, Paraguay, Brazil, Argentina and other countries often serve as cover for Hizbollah fund-raising cells.
To maintain and expand its political-social activities in the Shiite community in Lebanon and elsewhere, Hezbollah needs money. The estimated $120 million given annually by Iran is just a little slice of the cake. The United Nations estimated that international drug trade generates $322 billion annual revenue, making drugs by far the most lucrative illicit activity.
Most of Hezbollah’s support comes from drug trafficking, a major moneymaker endorsed by the mullahs through a particular fatwa. In addition to the production and trade of heroin in the Middle East, Hezbollah facilitates, for a fee, the trafficking of other drug smuggling networks, such as the FARC, in the case of cocaine.
The main reason why Guinea-Bissau became a major drug trafficking hub is its location and geographic characteristics. It is an archipelago of 90 islands, an inviting staging point along the route from Latin America to Europe, where the Euro is stronger than the US currency and the voracious appetite for coke is growing. When shipments from Latin America reach the cost of Guinea Bissau, the cocaine is broken into smaller consignments that are then sent by fast boats to the cost of Morocco and Senegal or moved in trucks through Mauritania and across the Sahara to the Mediterranean cost. A startling 50 tons of cocaine is transported through West Africa each year, according to the latest United Nations estimates. The value of this illicit trade dwarfs entire economies and has the potential to corrupt the region's fragile states, which are just pulling out of decades of bitter civil wars.
Convoys of heavily armed four-wheel-drive vehicles travel through the Sahel, across regions controlled by a network of terrorists associated with al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. The Lebanese network based in Bissau makes business at the source, directly with the FARC, on behalf of Hezbollah. The associated al Qaida cells, based in the Sahel, receive a sort of fee when the smugglers cross their territories, in Mauritania.
According to the 2008 annual report of the International Narcotics Control Board, another worrying narco-business that is growing in West Africa – and also controlled by the Lebanese, according to Interpol -- is methamphetamines. Criminal networks with ties to Mexico are setting up fake pharmaceutical companies to transit substances used to make methamphetamines. These companies use fake import-permits to illegally divert ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, which are found in cold and flu medications and are ingredients in the highly addictive crystal meth. They then ship the substances to Mexico to feed drug manufacturers.
Ronald Noble, secretary general of the Interpol, confirms that cocaine trafficking in West Africa supported several Hezbollah operations in Lebanon as well as al Qaida since at least 2006. Analysts and counter terrorism experts explain that the Lebanese network controls and administers several illegal activities in West Africa. Cocaine trafficking is the more profitable but they also specialize in oil trafficking and rough-diamonds smuggling. In Nigeria, for example, 80,000 barrels of oil a day are siphoned from illegally tapped pipelines, for an estimated $4 billion in annual cash flows. In Sierra Leone and Liberia, al Qaida and Hezbollah have begun investing in diamonds.
The amount of tax revenue collected in Colorado on legal marijuana sales in just the first two months of 2014 was $6.17 million.
The primary problem with drugs is that they are illegal and/or state-controlled. This counter-evolutionary control by the state, of substances that we take for other than nutritional purposes, is the root cause of virtually all the problems that people are concerned about in connection with drugs, drug abuse and drug-related crime.
Sure, all drugs have potential problems if abused. But we are human beings, and able to make judgements about these things, and treat them with respect and caution - just as we must with our food, our driving and our sex. Cannabis, magic mushrooms, peyote, opium, coca leaf extracts and alcohol were all legal at the end of the 19th century, when only alcohol was regarded as a major social problem. A century later, we find that alcohol is the only consciousness-altering drug that remains legal.
It should not surprise us that young people, especially, seek to experiment with drugs that alter or enhance their perception of life, and that youths and adults seek a drug-granted respite from the predictability of everyday life. There's a menu full of options out there to choose from but all of our choices are channelled towards alcohol. The biggest cause of alcoholism is, perhaps, the difficulty in obtaining safer, non-addictive and less befuddling alternatives, cannabis in particular. During the 1990's alcohol consumption reduced amongst Europe's youth, together with football hooliganism, as a wider selection of drugs became available.
It seems a reasonable desire for people to find some means to get “out of their heads” from time to time - to take a totally different perspective on life. Perhaps some new perspectives on life are needed in the world today and the attraction to drugs is evolution trying to happen.
We should be pleased that today's generation is avoiding the trap of alcohol addiction, together with the anti-social behaviour, depression, trivia worship and middle-age burnout that abusers risk. Used sensibly, alcohol can be a beneficial drug that enhances and maintains our health and well-being. Alcohol has a well-earned place in our culture but that place should not be defended by state legislation and turned into a drug monopoly.
Drugs are an integral part of our culture and, as most of us learned in school, drugs often formed the core of the early business which brought the world's differing cultures into trade with each other. These products of trade included tobacco, alcohol, opium, tea, coffee, chocolate, cocaine and sugar. We could almost regard pepper and spices as virtual drugs to the taste buds of the bland European palate of the mid-millennium. The glorious history of trade in the civilized world relied upon civilization's search for new and diverse drugs and sensory input.
|Legal Meth Ad|
People have always sought to include drugs in their diets for many non-medical reasons: whether to stay awake longer, or to fall asleep quicker; whether to drown their sorrows or to better understand them; whether to enjoy a banter in the bar with friends, or have mystic communication with a tree; whether to explore their dark side or say hello to the God within.
Some drugs are not an escape from “reality” but a gateway to exploring the very nature of reality. Even the humble drug tea was first discovered by Buddhist monks who valued it to help them stay up all night meditating in order to get high. One could imagine how dismayed they would be at the level of tea abuse taking place in modern Britain.
Getting happy, loving, insightful, bursting with positive energy, able to dance all night or just chilled out, are all definitely nice things to do and I say boo to the prigs who claim that these valuable experiences are invalid when we make use of a drug to assist us in getting to a desired state of mind.
Let them keep drinking their instant coffee, using one-hour film processors, flying across the world in hours instead of weeks. Let them eat their frozen dinners, sliced pre-baked bread and take-away fast food, working on computers that can do millions of calculations per second. Let them tune into instant escape from reality on a multitude of TV channels.
But accessing happiness, peace, boundless energy or deep feelings of love quickly and without great expense? Oh no, this must be done the long way through years of grief and hard work; or purchased, if we are to believe the advertising, when you select the right brand of auto-mobile sanitary towel or soft drink.
Cannabis is the most risk-free illegal drug in existence, with a recognized safe history going back thousands of years. It is a much happier and safer alternative to alcohol without the effect of making users befuddled and arrogant. If someone's reaction to cannabis is likely to impair their ability to drive, they realize that they are not safe behind a wheel, and that driving is the last thing they want to do in that condition - unlike the drunk who is convinced that he can take on the whole world with total competence. As far as I know, there is no statistical data linking cannabis consumption with actual dangerous driving.
Cannabis is a drug and use can turn to abuse and lead to reduced focus and motivation; this is a risk that is easier for a pot user to deal with when it occurs than it is for an alcohol user. And when it does occur, it is usually when cannabis is taken in combination with the addictive drug, tobacco. You are more likely to hear pure smokers talk about getting high, and tobacco mixers about getting stoned.
The range of drugs referred to as psychedelics all have their original roots and inspirations in natural substances that our species has used for millennia in the search for altered consciousness and greater understanding of the nature of God and the universe. The state bans these substances for the same reason that they issue passports and control which borderlines we cross. Psychedelics are the travelling drugs - they do not, generally speaking, work by stimulating or reducing urges or inhibitions. They are not addictive, have a very high lethal dose, if any, and account for barely a handful of fatalities per annum.
They take us into a different place - we travel to other dimensions, or see new dimensions in the world around us. In many ways the familiar world we live in, with brick houses, plumbers, parliaments, radios, cars, roads, suits, restaurants and so forth is but one channel on the set of all possible channels. Because this is the 'reality' we have created within the world around us we are tuned to it to such a degree that we can easily become oblivious to the deeper nature of the vast Universe that encompasses the little fleck of matter in space which we call Earth.
Psychedelics are not taken as an 'escape' from this world but as a ticket to see it from a different perspective, even from a different dimension. It is hard to emerge from this voyage without developing a realization, amongst many others, that those 'in power' are possessed of a narrow vision fuelled primarily by the desire to stay in power. Their viewpoint is of one channel only - the one that represents the status quo in whatever country they control - and their efforts to fine-tune this channel to a micro degree can often appear ludicrous. Thus, these drugs reveal clearly that “the emperor has no clothes” and must be prohibited at all costs.
|Mushrooms in the Selva Pascuala cave in Spain|
Many of the psychedelics grow naturally on this planet and have been utilised from the early days of our species along with the other gifts of the Earth that we use to feed, clothe and heal ourselves. Their popularity, and their undeserved illegalisation, has led to a growth in man-made alternatives such as LSD, Ecstasy and 2CB; substances which are themselves routinely banned as soon as it becomes apparent that yet another means to acquire a passport has been found, another door opened. Unlike experiences with tobacco, alcohol, chocolate or heroin, you rarely find cannabis or psychedelic users who continue to take these drugs whilst professing a constant desire to quit taking them. Psychedelics should always be treated with respect - and are fully capable of giving their own stern reminders when this is not done.
Not all drugs are as safe and non-addictive as cannabis. Some, like heroin, cocaine and controlled pharmaceuticals, carry serious risks and can create dependency and addiction. These are routinely made illegal in the belief that this will reduce consumption. The evidence could not be more to the contrary. Both the organised drugs dealers and police forces grow in strength and stand to make more money or preside over bigger budgets in an illegal drugs climate. Products are sold without identification, industry controls, manufacturer name, usage instructions, safety cautions, or any buyer's guarantee or maker's liability. In a free market, the legal liabilities for makers of crack cocaine could be a lot more frightening and inhibiting than the ineffective drugs squad.
In a free and informed drugs market fewer would choose the dangerous drugs, and the evidence in the UK and Holland supports this, as the majority of drug users choose the far less toxic cannabis and psychedelics. Many of these users have sampled drugs such as heroin, crack cocaine, amphetamines or alcohol and simply not become regular users. People are able to make intelligent choices and when they are enjoying life they are naturally interested in preserving their own, and act accordingly. Yet the state steadfastly refuses to let us exercise our own judgement in drug use. We live in a world where if you choose to make up your own mind about what you do with it, you can go to jail - for your own good of course.
This crazy attitude has embroiled most of the world in a virtual Third World War under the guise of America's internationally exported War on Drugs. Whole economies have been ravaged, and vast sums are spent each year from our taxes and confiscated from our citizens, while the numbers imprisoned worldwide must equal the annual casualties of a great ongoing war. This Third World War does not defend us from some great Evil threatening society and serves no useful purpose but to fatten the coffers of those waging it - from the countless worldwide bureaus, agencies and police forces, to the ever-expanding prison industry and makers of testing apparatus.
Perhaps the zeal with which this new war is waged reflects the state's own dependency on the massive tax revenues it raises from the approved drugs, and hinges on its cosy, centuries-long relationship with distillers, tobacco companies and the pharmaceutical industry - the biggest drug dealers in the world.
Another prime stimulus to this war arises from religious bigots who fear that personal revelations of brotherhood and oneness with the Universe might not be in strict accordance with church teachings, and could thus bypass the need for a priesthood to interpret these higher matters for us.
The casualties of this war on drugs are many and varied. Most obvious are the hundreds of thousands of our world's citizens who are locked up, at our expense, for indulging or trading in alternatives to the standardized 'OK by the USA' drugs - substances such as alcohol, tobacco, Prozac, prescription sedatives, coffee and cola drinks that must be the only mood or mind-altering fare available to the world. Though it is openly acknowledged that the majority of illegal drug shipments do get through to their markets, the casualties and costs continue to mount with no benefit for society.
Another level of casualties in this war evolves from the distortion of the natural market, which drives people to take more dangerous drugs than they would choose in a free market. The laws banning cannabis cultivation and use carry more responsibility for the growth of crack cocaine than do all the cocaine barons of Columbia and the CIA. They also carry responsibility for solvent related deaths, teenage alcoholism, madness from Datura (Jimson weed), and other aspects of the drug problem than does any other single factor. Though there is justified outrage at the probable part played by the CIA in the introduction of crack cocaine to America's inner cities, the statistics would suggest that the War on Drugs itself is the largest causative factor of America's downhill slide into dangerous drug abuse.
According to NIDA research for the USA, tobacco and alcohol kill twice as many people in a week as do all illegal drugs combined in a year. Unlike alcohol and tobacco, cannabis is neither addictive nor credited with any deaths per annum. And how can we ignore the millions made dependent upon prescribed pharmaceuticals with damaging, often lethal side-effects, excluding them altogether from the “drug problem” statistics?
This war has clogged courts and jails worldwide with drug cases. The U.S.A. has 2.8% of its adult population (5% of adult males) in jail. This is the highest incarceration rate in the world and three times the world average. America's forfeiture laws against drug users now routinely provide budgeted income to local state agencies as they seize valuable property, boats and businesses of people accused of being in the drugs trade - before their cases have even been tried in court! Even when proven innocent, it is difficult, costly and time-consuming to recover forfeited property. It seems evident that the War on Drugs creates far more problems than drugs ever posed on their own.
Like the American Prohibition of alcohol in the 1920's this surreptitious World War Three has no chance whatsoever of success. As we know from history, the effect of Prohibition was to double the overall level of alcohol consumption and increase deaths from badly-made alcohol. Prohibition gave the Mafia a very successful start in life, and a database of almost every club, bar or place of entertainment in the USA. The whole effort was an excellent example of the “terminal tool bag” in action.
We do have a problem with young people taking drugs as well as with middle aged and elderly people. It is a very serious problem that is getting worse. For some reason, though, the perception of this problem is focused entirely on the very small range of drugs which are being used illegally. Why do we ignore the vast problems faced by those who are using drugs prescribed by doctors, and whose lives are messed-up and sometimes destroyed as a result either of doctor error, their own abuse of the prescribed stocks, or just years of being addicted to synthetic pharmaceuticals with known side-effects? These can only be obtained through controlled channels but these channels translate into a multi-billion dollar industry throughout the world - the real drugs trade.
The most successful pharmaceutical drugs are those such as steroids, beta blockers and antihistamines which do not cure, but instead create a life-long habit for the user, often translating to hundreds or even thousands of pounds a month. These drug dealers openly lobby and encourage the state to pass laws controlling and restricting the alternative healing industry in the sale of herbal and other natural medicinal remedies. Even the deadly killers alcohol and tobacco are usually blinkered out of the vision when the vast majority talk about “the drug problem.”
While acknowledging the dangers posed by some illegal drugs, I point out that the unnecessary suffering and destruction meted out by the 'authorized' drugs trade is clearly the greater problem, despite being managed by trained people in white coats and slick PR professionals. More people will almost surely die from mis-applied or mis-prescribed pharmaceuticals in a month, probably even in a week, than from the so-called “drug problem” in a year. The statistics are not released and possibly not even tallied.
Prohibition Through The Ages
16th Century - Coffee banned in Egypt and supplies of coffee burned - use spreads rapidly
17th Century - The tsar of Russia executes tobacco users
c.1650 - Tobacco prohibited in Bavaria, Saxony, Zurich; the Ottoman sultan zealously executes smokers to no avail.
1736 - The Gin Act fails to halt consumption in England.
1845 - New York bans the public sale of liquor - repeals law two years later.
1875-1914 - 27 states and cities ban opium smoking-consumption increases sevenfold.
1914 U.S. - Congress passes Harrison Narcotics Act controlling opium and coca derivatives.
1914-1970 - Congress passes 55 laws to strengthen Harrison Act
1918 - Special Committee studies Harrison Act effects - widespread smuggling and increased use of narcotics - and calls for stricter enforcement.
1919 - Prohibition laws ban alcohol consumption in USA - consumption doubles.
1919-1933 - Use of marijuana, ether, and coffee increases.
1924 - U.S. Congress bans heroin completely-and heroin replaced morphine in blackmarket
1937 - First U.S. Federal law passed against marijuana use.
1949 - Law enforcement crackdown on non-prescription barbiturates - use increases 800% from 1942-1969.
1958 - Soviets raise alcohol prices 23% to reduce consumption - policy fails.
1959 - Concerted campaign against glue sniffing begins - causes "a boom in cocaine smuggling" by 1969.
1962 - The FDA stops legal production of LSD - LSD use skyrockets by 1970.
1965 - Amphetamine use crackdown further stimulates importation of cocaine.
1968 - Campaign against marijuana use among troops in Vietnam prompts growing heroin use.
1969 - New York city arrests 9000 more for drug use with no impact on drug availability & use.
1971 - All-out campaign against heroin use in Vietnam fails.
1971 - 900 pounds of heroin seized in New York City has no impact on price.
1971 - President Nixon declares drugs "America's public enemy No.1"
1972 - U.S.A. passes a $1 Billion anti-drug bill.
1973 - Rockefeller passes another tough anti-drug bill in New York
1973 - President Nixon declares "We have turned the corner on drug addiction in America."
1973 - Singapore sets death penalty for drug trafficking - a few years later a drug official admits that "Heroin seems to be more widely used than ever."
1977 - Bar Association concludes that Rockefeller Bill has had no effect on heroin consumption.
1980 - 300,000 youths in Malaysia estimated to be using illegal drugs.
1987 - Malaysia's 12-foot high security fence along border with Thailand fails to stop drug traffic.
1987 - Soviets increase penalties against moonshining in bid to lower alcohol use.
1987 - Soviet legal alcohol production down 30%; moonshining up 40%; home-made wine production up 300%; 200,000 prosecuted for illegal home brewing.
1988 - U.S. Senate adds $2.6 billion to federal anti-drug efforts.
1989 - Ronald Reagan declares victory in War on Drugs as being his major achievement
1989 - U.S. Secretary of State reports that the global war on narcotics "is clearly not being won."
1990-1997 - America exports its war on drugs worldwide - drug consumption increases worldwide. How long must this continue???
2013 - DRUG WAR STILL GOES ON
Disclaimer: Readers are advised to avoid all illegal drugs and to only ever ingest those substances that have been approved by or prescribed by a government-approved doctor. Then you will be a happy, healthy bunny.
West Africa’s perfect global positioning between South America and Europe, and its endemic corruption, poverty and disorganisation, have made it thenew drug hub. And drug money is used to fund politics.
A Boeing 727 from Venezuela carrying an estimated five to nine tonnes of cocaine landed at Tarkint, near the city of Gao in northeast Mali, in November 2009. It unloaded and made a failed take-off attempt, and then was set alight. The drugs were never recovered. An investigation revealed that a Lebanese family and a Mauritanian businessman who had made a fortune from Angolan diamonds were among the backers of the enterprise.
How could such a large plane carrying so much cocaine freely enter a region that, although desert, was neither uninhabited nor ungoverned? A French specialist who wishes to be anonymous claims that a government minister and highly placed people in the army and intelligence services with connections to the former president, Amadou Toumani Touré (ATT), were involved, as were some members of parliament from the north of the country.
The source said: “It’s a sensitive subject. It goes to the heart of power. When ATT’s regime collapsed, high-ranking officers in the Malian army and intelligence who had links with the drugs trade found themselves totally de legitimised That’s one reason why the enlisted men and the junior officers took part in the March 2012 coup. The higher ranks had a collection of cars that the entire military budget couldn't have bought. Drug trafficking brought major benefits: it helped with elections and real estate deals were financed through money laundering operations.
Many politicians came to arrangements with the traffickers. If an over-eager soldier stopped a convoy, he’d get a call from someone higher up telling him to let it through. It happened on the border with Guinea in the time of intelligence , the Guinean president’s son, who was arrested for drug trafficking. ATT turned a blind eye to it. He let things slide. The Malian regime was one of the most corrupt in West Africa.”
Simon Julien , a French specialist on the Sahel, has described the situation of competition in northern Mali before 2012, where some had access to drug money and others didn't The regime attempted to quell Tuareg rebellions by giving generous funding from drug money to groups opposed to the Tuaregs of the N’Fughas mountains. This backfired. The resultant influx of arms from Libya and of Islamist fighters accelerated the partition of Mali. The part that drug money has played in the destabilisation of the whole sub-region should not be underestimated.
In the Nigerian capital, Lagos, the first illegal lab for producing amphetamines and methamphetamine was dismantled in June 2011. In Cape Verde in October 2011, 1.5 tonnes of cocaine were seized on a beach on the island of Santiago. In June 2010, two tonnes of white powder were found in a prawn-fishing storage facility in Gambia. And in April 2011 in Cotonou, 202kg of heroine were found in a shipping container from Pakistan apparently bound for Nigeria. Cannabis, the only locally produced illegal drug, remains the most common, but it is for local consumption only. Synthetic drugs — cocaine and heroin— are for Europe, Japan or China.
Major drug hub
Since 2004, West Africa has become a major hub for cocaine trafficking, storage and distribution. It caters for between 12% and 25% of European demand: 21 tonnes out of 129 in 2009, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The region offers international drug traffickers a range of competitive advantages: its strategic position between producer and consumer countries; cheap logistics and labour; slack controls and weak law-enforcement; endemic and low-cost corruption; a general climate of impunity.
Midway between South America and Europe, this new staging post receives products from the world’s top cocaine producers, Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. It supplies Europe, the second-biggest cocaine market in the world, with a value estimated at $33bn in 2012 (just $4bn less than North America). Cocaine is the second most commonly used drug in Europe after cannabis, the UK tops the chart in EU consumption rates. Prevalence of drug use in UK for 15-34 age group was Cocaine 7.7%, Ecstasy 7.3% and Meth 11.9%.
|Caught with 2,475 kg of coke in Senegal|
This lucrative trade is considered by international organisations such as the UNODC and the International Narcotics Control Board as a major factor in West Africa’s instability. The economic crisis, and the policies imposed by the IMF and the World Bank, have eroded the legitimacy of most states in the region. Everything had its price even before the arrival of cocaine; but international criminals handling huge sums of money have made matters worse.
“Transnational organised criminals take a commercial approach: they look for the low-risk, high-return option. Traffickers are after the best routes— where corruption, combined with their tactics, which range from death threats to murder, will give them freedom of movement,” says Pierre Lapaque, UNODC director in West Africa. The cocaine trade is comparable in value to oil or arms trafficking; it’s extremely profitable. In 2012 the UNODC in Dakar (Senegal) calculated that the sale of around 30 tonnes of cocaine generated $1.2bn profit, more than $500m of which was laundered and spent locally. By comparison, last year Guinea-Bissau (a major transit point for drugs) had a budget of just $237m.
Cocaine is a high value-added product: it sells for $2,700-4,000 per kilo in its production zones, over $13,000 on the Atlantic coast, $16,000 in the capitals of the Sahel, $24,000-27,000 in the cities of North Africa, and between $40,000 and $60,000 in Europe, according to the anonymous expert quoted above. These are wholesale prices for a product whose purity diminishes along the supply chain.
Deals, and fallings out
For West African police, customs officers and judges, the battle against trafficking is almost impossible: the gulf between their resources and the traffickers’ is vast. The police in Guinea-Bissau sometimes cannot put petrol in their patrol vehicles. That crushes even the most enthusiastic determination, and criminals exploit ethnic and cultural networks, strong diasporas (of Nigerians, for example), language communities and other interests. Most often, a small group of individuals come together for a couple of “jobs”, then separate, link up again — or kill each other.
|Narco subs heading for Africa?|
The networks of drug routes are as many and shifting as the exporters, importers, intermediaries, forwarding agents and helpers. All itineraries and all modes of operation are valid: they juxtapose and join up for greater effectiveness and profit. It’s a chain. From South America to Africa and on to Europe, a single package of cocaine may travel by plane, car and ship. As sea transport is the most common form in the world, the trans-Atlantic cocaine trade makes considerable use of it. But “in the last two or three years, more and more twin-engine planes have been landing in West Africa on abandoned airstrips, or making low-altitude drops,” Lapaque says. “The loads are then picked up by teams on the ground. Trafficking by sea and using ‘mules’ hasn't stopped. Between 2006 and 2008, fishing boats were more common. Now it’s containers.”
The shortest route from South America to Africa follows the 10th parallel of latitude; it’s used every day by thousands of freighters, fishing boats, sailing boats and cruise ships. European and US law enforcement have made large drugs seizures on “Highway 10”. Containers with cocaine concealed inside are mainly brought ashore in the international ports of Lagos or Lomé (Togo). Fishing boats offload their illegal cargo on to other smaller boats along quiet stretches of coastline, in mangrove swamps or inlets on West Africa’s Atlantic coast.
Nigerian traffickers favour mules, who carry the drugs in small packets or capsules of powder in their luggage, clothes or wigs — or in their stomachs. Their point of entry is usually an international airport, such as Dakar or the Malian capital, Bamako, not always by scheduled flight. Cocaine changes its hiding place and form in the course of its journey: it may be pure or cut, in bars, in demijohns, powdered or liquid, in a sports bag or hidden inside frozen fish. The powder that arrives in West Africa is stored and repackaged, and then transported to European markets, usually via the trans-Sahel-Sahara route through Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Chad to Libya and Egypt. Even Moroccan hashish follows this ancient route.
The arrival of groups such as MUJAO (the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa), AQIM (Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb) and Ansar Dine in northern Mali has had consequences for the drugs trade. AQIM and MUJAO exact tolls from cocaine convoys that cross their territory and, for a price, supply protection . Only a modest amount of AQIM’s income comes from drugs — hostage-taking is much more lucrative — but MUJAO makes more. Contrary to expectations, the division in Mali hasn’t made the trade easier. “A weak state presents an opportunity for traffickers, but a completely disorganised territory is dangerous,” the Sahel specialist told me. “Without reliable support from the army or the police, or from local and national politicians, the security of cocaine consignments can’t be guaranteed. Even if you have struck deals with all the jihadist and MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad) groups in the north, you still risk being ripped off.”
That’s why the traffickers have decided to move their business to neighbouring Niger. “Networks are taking shape in Arlit and Agadez [in Niger]. More and more traffickers are moving there from Mali,” said a politician from Niger.
In spite of its instability, Guinea-Bissau is one country that has not yet caused the drug traffickers to flee: 15th in the Failed States Index 2012 (just after Nigeria), it is a major hub for cocaine in West Africa. In 2007 the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) estimated that between 800 and 1,000kg of cocaine entered the country by air every night. Ports, airports and even islands have been leased to traffickers with the knowledge of the government, who have abdicated responsibility to the army.
“In almost all cases in 2006-07 that involved the seizure of one to two tonnes of cocaine, there was no prosecution. And in the few exceptions, no sentence was handed down,” a French specialist in the country said. “In Guinea-Bissau, trafficking results from a deal between the army and civil authorities.”
|What Can We Do?|
To operate this trade, the international cocaine traffickers, especially the South Americans, forged top-level alliances with Guinea-Bissau’s civil and military leaders. Carlos Gomes Júnior (“Cadogo”), the country’s former prime minister arrested in the April 2012 coup, was suspected of covering up this trade and profiting from it. “Suspicions about Gomes date back to 2008, when a boat disappeared along with its cargo. He was accused of being behind it. The case got shelved,” the analyst recalls. “Not everything is drugs-related,” Lapaque points out, “but it always has to be taken into account.”
In 2011, the chief of staff, Antonio Indjai, neutralised his rival, Rear Admiral José Americo Bubo Na Tchuto, then head of the navy, and took control of the ports. “Bubo” features on the US’s international drugs trade wanted list; he was freed in the 2012 coup but seems to be currently out of action. It seems that the army’s chief of staff, who is close to Gomes Junior, gave his support to the coup only at the last moment, realising that he was better off with the military, a group of clans who pick their own leader.
The April 2012 coup wasn't just caused by the cocaine trade: there had also been accusations of electoral fraud, historical tensions between politicians and the military, communitarian claims by the Balante (the main ethnic group in the army) and calls for greater recognition for Bissau, the autonomous capital. Fear of reform of the security sector planned by Gomes Junior caused particular alarm: the military opposed it, as it would have forced many of them into unemployment or retirement, with minimal guarantees (tiny pensions, unconvincing retraining schemes). After the April coup, the drug trade went quiet due to the level of disorder, a trend seen after every serious disruption.
Cocaine has become an important new revenue source for some West African elites — just as cannabis has become an alternative cash crop for the continent’s peasants — but its impact on national conflicts needs to be put in context. Drug money feeds conflicts, but it isn't the prime motivating factor. Control of the traffic and territories was at the heart of the rivalries and score-settling between Indjai and “Bubo” in Guinea-Bissau, and the Tuaregs and the other peoples of northern Mali before 2012. But for those in the military or politics who hold power in Guinea-Bissau, and for the Islamist fighters who are flocking to Mali, and the new rulers in Bamako, the drugs trade is a tool for pursuing political objectives.
Misappropriation of funds at the highest levels of society in West Africa is not limited to the cocaine trade. Drugs get particular attention because of their health consequences and impact on Europe; they push into the background the instability caused by oil smuggling in eastern Nigeria, which is deemed more socially acceptable. They also allow states to justify repressive policies that target street dealers and addicts, while demonstrating complete inertia over economic and social development.
There are many similarities between a small sovereign nation like Belize and Guinea Bissau in West Africa. A growing number of organized crime which operates largely with impunity, is breeding corruption,threatening the security across a region where the value of drugs present is higher than their national GDPs.
As observed by experts from the UNODC, drug trafficking is best facilitated by the involvement of state officials. No matter if active or passive in their actions, politicians, high-rank military authorities and civil servants can largely smooth the path for the traffickers to operate also blurring the line between the state and the organized crime. The U.S. government has estimated that up to 90% of the 700 metric tons of cocaine headed from South America to the U.S. wends its way through Belize.
The U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control announced it was freezing the assets of three Belize residents alleged to be drug traffickers and “key associates” of a Mexican drug trafficking group lead by Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera ("El Chapo") ,Ismael Zambada García ("El Mayo") and Juan José Esparragoza Moreno ("El Azul").
The three suspects targeted are John Zabaneh, his nephew Dion Zabaneh, and a“close associate” named Daniel Moreno. described by U.S. officials as “critical figures” with ties to Colombian suppliershave been identified as Sinaloa CartelOperatives in Belize.
Belize, scarcely populated and often forgotten, is getting its fair share of drug action. The desolate western portion of the nation, which borders often lawless northern Guatemala, has become a breeding ground for growing drug trafficking organizations in the area. The tourist driven coastal area to the east has become a playground for dollar spending drug lords looking to launder money and relax for a few days. Belize City, the largest city, is seeing an urban struggle between street gangs for drug profits.
According to the Statistical Institute of Belize (SIB), 43 percent of youth aged 14-24 are unemployed, while 46 percent of the total labour force is illiterate. Moreover, only 12 percent of the total labour force has completed high school.
Poor education quality and lack of economic opportunity are variables that push youth into environments of crime. Initiation into a local gang could lead to contract work for Mexican cartels that promise anything a young man could ever want: money; drugs; status; and power. Aside from routine murders and robberies, these same gangs are also responsible for the 2011 raid of the Belize Defense Force (BDF) armoury in Ladyville, taking M-16 and M4 military issue riffles, 9 millimetre handguns, and grenades.
Within the last two years the Zetas have pushed into western Belize, while drug style murders have risen in Belize City from street gangs. The murders of at least 15 people in Belize in just over two weeks, that’s almost one per day, has fuelled concerns that criminal groups are embroiled in inter-gang feuds and/or where groups are competing over lucrative drug-trafficking routes into and out of the country.
There are also signs that police forces are involved with narcotraffickers—especially with Mexico’s Zetas cartel In 2010, police stopped traffic and lit a highway to allow a night landing for a twin-engine Beech craft crammed with $130 million worth of cocaine. The cargo was seized by national authorities with aid from the U.S. DEA after the craft clipped a wing. All of this, unfortunately, presents a golden opportunity for narco traffickers. Belize’s institutions are weak, police corruptible and unemployed population aplenty.
In the coastal town of Punta Gorda, a white, twin-engine air plane — larger than the planes usually used for domestic flights in Belize — landed right in the middle of Southern Highway. The plane had stopped in Belize to refuel, but since its wings were slightly damaged upon landing, the Beechcraft Super King Air wasn't able to take off and the crew abandoned it, police said. The crew left behind a cargo of 2,600 kilograms of Colombian cocaine. Local police said it was the biggest drug bust in Belize’s history.
Recent news reports have stated that the DEA has5 commando style squadsthat have been deployed to Latin American countries to help in fighting drug trafficking organizations. Belize is one of those countries.
Recently the two most prominent gang leaders in the country, Shelton Pinky Tillett and Arthur Young have been killed - after a weekend that rocked the nation to its core and caused widespread panic and public terror.
Shelton Pinky Tillett was not a menacing or aggressive character - but he was considered the boss of the George Street Gaza - the most powerful and dangerous gang in Belize. Around pm he parked his pick-up at the entrance of a petrol station and went inside the store.
When he got back into the vehicle a man described as wearing a dread hat and a mask over his face - came out of a silver pathfinder -armed with a gun- and began firing shots inside the vehicle. According to one eyewitness, at least 13 shots were fired. Both Tillett and his female companion Andrews died just moments after and their bodies were quickly transported to the hospital.
Immediately after that killing the word went out from Police and on the streets that Arthur Young was the masked man who pulled the trigger. Bar none, Young is the most feared man on the streets. At 38, Young had lived longer than anyone expected him to.despite his criminal history, and multitudes of enemies, Arthur young was a genius at re-invention and a master at survival.
On April 6, 2010 he made this statement
"I am in hiding because I heard the police have a charge for me for something I am not involved with."The way I see it right now, if I meet up to the police, if they meet me in a spot I think they are going to try to kill me. The police force is trying to kill me for ever so long. For what, I don't know."
Arthur Young, the leader of Taylor’s Alley Gang was allegedly shot and killed in the pan of a police truck around mid-night on Sunday. According to police, Young resisted arrested and a scuffle ensued, whereby Young was fatally shot by a police officer and according to sources was shot three times, in the chest and the mouth. Young was wanted in connection with the murders of thirty-one year old Shelton “Pinky” August, leader of George Street Gang and twenty-three year old Kamille Andrews.
According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Belize had a murder rate of 39 per 100,000 in 2011, ranking alongside neighbouring Guatemala and Jamaica. The accelerating rate of gang-related murders taking place in 2012 indicates that this trend, far from abating, may be getting worse.
The northern Guatemalan province of Petan, which borders Belize, was the home to the ranch massacre that left 27 workers murdered and decapitated. An estimated 200 gunmen, believed to be Zetas, arrived at the ranch in buses. The Zetas have attacked land owners and local drug lords in a recent power seize in the area. Guatemalan authorities reported that a four-wheel-drive vehicle with Belize license plates had been used by its members and found in the ranch. Police said the diplomatic vehicle had been stolen from a Guatemalan driver assigned to an outpost of the Organization of American States along Guatemala’s border with Belize.
Tons of South American cocaine are believed to be imported through the Belize coast into Mexico. Vessels have been recently given to the Belize coast guard from the United States to help detect and confiscate incoming shipments.
To the south-east of Belize lies Honduras which faces very similar and escalating problems. The coastline is being used to smuggle cocaine inland and towards the United States. Fisherman are known to fish for the "white lobster" (lost floating cocaine packages), as much as for fish.
Belize is facing similar US formed gang problems as other Central American Countries. In Belize the gangs are US Blood and Crip based. While Central American gangs like MS-13 and M-18 recruit a wide range of Latinos, often English speaking and African decent Belizeans are drawn into traditional African-American street gangs like the Bloods and Crips. Belize has had a large numbers of deported criminals from the US who now run the streets looking for criminal profits and way to live.
Back in the US, a Belize immigrant street gang known as the Belizean Bloods was recently cracked down on in the Salt Lake City area. The gang was in the middle of planning to rob a Mexican based DTO operation during the raids. Five men with loaded guns were arrested as part of a multi-city effort to bust the Belizean Bloods gang, which allegedly used fake U.S. passports while shipping cocaine and other narcotics from Belize to the Chicago area and several other cities. The Belizean Bloods narcotics distribution route allegedly included Illinois, Utah, Ohio, Indiana, New York and California.
Drug Trafficking Organization Profiles with Ties to Belize
Los Zetas-Created in 1999 by former special forces deserters who used their skills to work for The Gulf Cartel.
Based in Guatemala's northern-most province of Peten,next to Belize, the Mendozas mainly ran contraband before becoming one of Central America's drug trafficking organizations (DTOs).
They have sought political alliances with powerful members of the government and strategic alliances with other DTOs in the country. This may have included a short-lived agreement that some called the "Pacto de Peten" between themselves and the Lorenzanas to split the country north from south and push out the rival Leones, who they believed were responsible for stealing much of their merchandise.
According to some Guatemalan sources, they used hired guns to attack the Leones, supposedly bringing in feared Mexican group the Zetas, who in March 2008, assassinated Juancho Leon in the Zacapa province. This strategy, however, backfired, and the Zetas co-opted territory in south-eastern and central Guatemala. Much of the Mendoza clan is thought to have fled, or to be regularly using Belize as a refuge. Nonetheless, they are also believed to have the best contacts in Guatemala’s government, something the Zetas may still lack.
The Lorenzanas are a traditional contraband family, who, over time, became enmeshed in the lucrative drug trade. Despite the capture of the family's patriarch, Waldemar Lorenzana, in April 2011, they still command respect and support mainly in the western states of Izapal and Zacapa.
The Lorenzanas have become crucial players in the cocaine trade, acting as middlemen between Colombian producers to the south and Mexican distributors to the north. Once shipments of cocaine arrive in Guatemala, the Lorenzanas reportedly work with the Sinaloa Cartel to move the drugs into Mexico and, from there, to the United States.
Lorenzana’s criminal empire became so powerful, in fact, that it developed a kind of grassroots following. According to the Prensa Libre, when U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officials raided La Reforma in July 2009 in an effort to locate Lorenzana, hundreds of protesters staged a massive rally in the city to support the family. The protests succeeded in partially interfering with the operation, allowing the kingpin and his family to escape.
In April 2010, the U.S. Treasury froze the assets of Waldemar and his three sons, citing connections with the Sinaloa cartel. A source affirms that some in the family may be using Belize as a respite, waiting for the numerous battles between local and international cartels play out.
The Leones, who operate along the Eastern border with Honduras and El Salvador, were car thieves and cattle rustlers before entering the drug trade.
Much of their business was via robberies of many Mendoza and Lorenzana cargoes traveling through Zacapa. Once considered one of the most powerful and violent families in Guatemala, the Leones have since gone underground. On March 25, 2008, Zeta gunmen killed 11 members of the Leon clan in Zacapa, including Juancho Leon, one of the group’s leaders.
But the reasons for this battle are not altogether clear. One theory is that the Mendozas and the Lorenzanas schemed to get rid of the Leones using the Zetas, an agreement dubbed the “Pacto de Peten.”Alternatively the massacre could have resulted from a broken Leones-Zetas alliance. In either case, the Leones' power is on the decline, and the Zetas are now thought to control their old turf.
The amount of tax revenue collected in Colorado on legal marijuana sales in just the first two months of 2014 was $6.17 million.
|Enforcing marijuana laws costs the taxpayers an estimated $10 billion annually|
Regardless of your feelings about legalizing marijuana, it's hard to deny that legal weed would be a bonanza for cash-strapped states, just as tobacco and alcohol already are. With Colorado and Washington starting to tax and regulate recreational weed sales, and medical marijuana legal in 18 other states, we can finally start to put some hard numbers on the industry's value.
|Colorado dispensaries generated about $14 million in sales in January alone|
$1.53 billion: The amount the national legal marijuana market is worth, according to a Nov. 2013 report from ArcView Market Research, a San Francisco-based investor group focused on the marijuana industry.
$10.2 billion: The estimated amount the national legal marijuana market will be worth in five years, according to that same ArcView report.
$98 million:The total tax revenue that Colorado could reap in the fiscal year that begins in July, according to a recent budget proposal from Gov. John Hickenlooper.
$40 million:The amount of marijuana tax revenue Colorado is devoting to public school construction.
7,500-10,000:The estimated number of marijuana industry jobs that currently exist in Colorado, according to Michael Elliott, the Executive Director of the Marijuana Industry Group, a trade association that advocates for responsible marijuana regulation.
$190 million: The amount in taxes and fees legal marijuana is projected to raise for the state of Washington over four years starting in mid-2015, according to the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council, an independent agency that advises
the state government on the budget and tax revenue.
$142.19 million: The estimated size of the medical marijuana market in Arizona in 2014, according to the ArcView Market Research report, up from $35.37 million last year. Arizona has a record 80 medical pot dispensaries currently open, with more expected to open this year, according to AZMarijuana.com.
$17.4 billion:The estimated total amount that marijuana prohibition costs state and federal governments every year, according to a 2010 study by Harvard University economist Jeffrey Miron.
The Cannabis plant has a history of medicinal use dating back thousands of years across many cultures, it is one of the 50 "fundamental" herbs in traditional Chinese medicine. The ancient Egyptians used hemp in suppositories for relieving the pain of hemorrhoids. Surviving texts from ancient India confirm that cannabis was prescribed by doctors for treating a
variety of illnesses and ailments, including insomnia, headaches, gastrointestinal disorders, and pain, including during childbirth.
In the medieval Islamic world, Arabic physicians made use of the diuretic, anti emetic, anti epileptic, anti-inflammatory, analgesic and antipyretic properties of Cannabis sativa, and used it extensively as medication from the 8th to 18th centuries. Medical use of cannabis is legalized in Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Israel, Netherlands,
Spain, the UK and some states in the US, although it is illegal under US federal law.
Synthetic cannabinoids are available as prescription drugs in some countries; examples include: dronabinol (available in the United States (US) and Canada) and nabilone (available in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom (UK), and the US). In recent years the American Medical Association, the MMA, the American Society of Addiction Medicine, and other medical organizations have issued statements opposing its usage for medicinal purposes.
Laboratory tests conducted in 2008 by a team of scientists formed as a joint research effort between Spain, France and Italy, and published in The Journal Of Clinical Investigation, showed that the active ingredient in marijuana, known as THC, can function as a cure for brain cancer by inducing human glaucoma cell death through stimulation of autophagy.
The study concluded that via the same biochemical process THC could terminate multiple types of cancers, affecting various cells in the body. Other studies have shown that cannabis may work by various mechanisms, including inhibiting cell growth, inducing cell death, and inhibiting tumour metastasis.
Much of the medical marijuana discussion has focused on the safety of marijuana compared to the safety of FDA-approved drugs. On June 24, 2005 ProCon.org sent a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to find the number of deaths caused by marijuana compared to the number of deaths caused by 17 FDA-approved drugs.
Twelve of these FDA-approved drugs were chosen because they are commonly prescribed in place of medical marijuana, while the remaining five FDA-approved drugs were randomly selected because they are widely used and recognized by the general public.
Summary of Deaths by Drug Classification
Jan. 1, 1997 to June 30, 2005
17 FDA Drugs 10,008
The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) noted the following symptoms or conditions under their Nov. 2002 report titled "Descriptions of Allowable Conditions under State Medical Marijuana Laws"
MINNESOTA BECOMES 22ND STATE TO LEGALIZE MEDICAL MARIJUANA
In Mexico over the last 23 Months there have been 41,000 murders and 125,879 executions in the last 8 years, all related to drugs that are illegal. Each year, hundreds of thousands of people around the world die from preventable drug-related disease and violence. Millions of users are arrested and thrown in jail. Globally, communities are blighted by drug-related crime. Citizens see huge amounts of their taxes spent on harsh policies that are not working.
But despite this clear evidence of failure, there is a damaging reluctance worldwide to consider a fresh approach. The Global Commission on Drug Policy is determined to help break this century-old taboo.
We cal on governments to adopt more humane and effective ways of controlling and regulating drugs. We recommended that the criminalization of drug use should be replaced by a public health approach. We also appealed for countries to carefully test models of legal regulation as a means to undermine the power of organized crime, which thrives on illicit drug trafficking.
There is, at last, some evidence of change. Officials from Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico and Uruguay have assumed the lead in initiating reforms to drug policy in their own countries. These efforts have had knock-on effects across the neighbourhood.
In 2013, the Organization of American States (OAS) issued a landmark report on drug policy proposing alternative forms of drug regulation. The findings of the Global Commission resonated across Europe as well. Many European states serve as a model for a health-oriented approach to drug policy. In several countries, evidence-based prevention, harm reduction and treatment are endorsed -- in sharp contrast to solely repressive approaches adopted in other parts of the world.
Drug policy reform is going viral. Other regions are joining the debate about new and progressive ways of dealing with drugs.
For example, in New Zealand, proposals are being drafted to regulate synthetic drugs. In West Africa, where drug trafficking and organized crime is threatening democracy and governance, brave leaders have launched a West African Commission on drug trafficking and its consequences.
Even the United States, among the staunchest of all prohibitionist states, is enacting new approaches to drug policy. For the first time, a majority of Americans support regulating cannabis for adult consumption. And in the states of Colorado and Washington, new bills were approved to make this a reality. There are signs that these experiences could multiply further still.
All countries will have an opportunity to review the international drug control regime in a few years' time. The special session of the United Nations General Assembly in 2016 will provide a great opportunity for an honest and informed debate on drug policy. We hope that this debate will encourage drug policies that are based on what actually works in practice rather than what ideology dictates in theory.
“The facts speak for themselves. It is time to change course,” said Kofi Annan, Chair of the Kofi Annan Foundation and convenor of the West Africa Commission on Drugs (chaired by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, of Nigeria), which presented wide-ranging recommendations for drug policy reform earlier this year. “We need drug policies informed by evidence of what actually works,
rather than policies that criminalize drug use while failing to provide access to effective prevention or treatment. This has led not only to overcrowded jails but also to severe health and social problems.”
“We can’t go on pretending the war on drugs is working,” said Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group. “We need our leaders to look at alternative, fact-based approaches. Much can be learned from successes and failures in regulating alcohol, tobacco or pharmaceutical drugs. The risks associated with drug use increase, sometimes dramatically, when they are produced, sold and consumed in an unregulated criminal environment. The most effective way to advance the goals of public health and safety is to get drugs under control through responsible legal regulation.”
“As several European countries became aware of the harms caused by repressive drug policies, they adopted harm reduction and innovative treatment strategies like needle exchange, substitution therapies, heroin prescription and safe consumption rooms, as well as the the decriminalization of drug consumption and possession for personal use”, said former Swiss president Ruth Dreifuss. “Such lifesaving and safety enhancing measures represent only half of the way to dealing responsibly with drugs in our societies. Regulating the whole chain, from the production to the retail of drugs, allows to rollback criminal organizations,secure quality standards and protect people’s life, health and safety.”
Taking Control makes seven major recommendations, which can be summarized as follows:
– Put health and community safety first through a fundamental reorientation of policy priorities and resources, from failed punitive enforcement to proven health and social interventions.
– Ensure equitable access to essential medicines, in particular opiate-based medications for pain.
– Stop criminalizing people for drug use and possession – and stop imposing “compulsory treatment” on people whose only offence is drug use or possession.
– Rely on alternatives to incarceration for non-violent, low-level participants in illicit drug markets such as farmers, couriers and others involved in the production, transport and sale of illicit drugs.
– Focus on reducing the power of criminal organizations as well as the violence and insecurity that result from their competition with both one another and the state.
– Allow and encourage diverse experiments in legally regulating markets in currently illicit drugs, beginning with but not limited to cannabis, coca leaf and certain novel psychoactive substances.
-Take advantage of the opportunity presented by the upcoming UNGASS in 2016 to reform the global drug policy regime.
-Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations and chair of the Kofi Annan Foundation, Ghana
-Louise Arbour, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Canada
-Pavel Bém, former Mayor of Prague, Czech Republic
-Richard Branson, entrepreneur, advocate for social causes, founder of the Virgin Group, cofounder of The Elders, United Kingdom
-Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former President of Brazil (chair)
-Maria Cattaui, former Secretary-General of the International Chamber of Commerce, Switzerland
-Ruth Dreifuss, former President of Switzerland and Minister of Home Affairs
-César Gaviria, former President of Colombia
-Asma Jahangir, human rights activist, former UN Special Rapporteur on Arbitrary, Extra judicial and Summary Executions,Pakistan
-Michel Kazatchkine, UN Secretary General Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and former executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, France
-Aleksander Kwasniewski, former President of Poland
-Ricardo Lagos, former President of Chile
-George Papandreou, former Prime Minister of Greece
-Jorge Sampaio, former President of Portugal
-George P. Shultz, former Secretary of State, United States (honorary chair)
-Javier Solana, former European Union High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy , Spain
-Thorvald Stoltenberg, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Norway
-Mario Vargas Llosa, writer and public intellectual, Peru
-Paul Volcker, former Chairman of the United States Federal Reserve and of the Economic Recovery Board
– John Whitehead, former Deputy Secretary of State, former Co-Chairman Goldman Sachs & Co. and founding Chairman, 9/11 Memorial & Museum
The Sinaloa Cartel a multi-national company with sales and marketing outlets in 54 counties (compared to Barclay Bank, which operates in 51 counties with 48 Million customers ) plus a 35 % world-wide market share in its core product (marijuana), and with more employees than McDonald, perhaps it might be enlightening to business entrepreneurs to study the factors leading to the multinationals success.
According to US investigators, the Sinaloa Cartel has taken control of the US heroin market. Although authorities are closely watching them, the criminal group's product has displaced Colombia's and Afghanistan's from the market, and is also looking to extend its distribution networks into other US states.
According to the DEA, 50 % of heroin sold in the US is produced in Mexico, between 43 and 45 % comes from Colombia,and the rest from Asian countries. Almost all of it is supplied by Mexican cartels. In an interview, Special Prosecutor Brennan pointed directly to the Sinaloa Cartel as the organization supplying the New York market and the rest of the country.
The most recent report by the Department of Justice (DOJ) indicates that Mexican drug traffickers have a presence in 1,286 cities in the US. In less than 10 years, Mexico has overtaken Colombia and countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan as a leader in the US drug market. Currently, Mexico is the second biggest producer of opium and marijuana in the world, according to the most recent report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
The Federations’s geographical advantage — production facilities close to transportation. Besides the port of Mazatlán and excellent roads — vastly improved under the Calderón Administration thanks to the new Mazatlán-Durango highway — Sinaloa has airfields (covert and not) offering easy access to their single most important outlet, the United States.
By acquiring facilities in a number of other seaports (Manzanillo, Lazaro Cárdenas, Acapulco and Salina Cruz) within a comfortable distance for logistics has vastly simplified the ability of the Sinaloans to dominate the export market. While there has been a drop in sales lately, due to moves to legalize marijuana in the United States,
If the Sinaloa Cartel was a stock on the Nasdaq its investors would still be seeing a double digit up tick on their investment each week. Opiates are also in strong demand with strong growth in sales, and with it’s already existing logistics in place, has been easily able to adjust to changing consumer demand. Ports are not only for export. China and Mongolia provide the base chemicals needed for meth-amphetamine production, and with the Sinaloan’s sales force already in place, there seems to be an unlimited growth ahead for Crystal.
More than geography and product delivery what has been essential to the success of the Sinaloans has been their management structure and successful branding. Mixing the best of both worlds, the Sinaloan management strategy is to adopt both the Asian business model, with key executive positions held by people related by blood or marriage, with the U.S. and European model of hiring outside experts for specific tasks (accounting, software design, money laundering, murder) as needed.
Having avoided diversification beyond what is necessary to preserve the core business of peripheral trades like extortion, kidnapping, truck high jacking, and murder for hire, has given the Sinaloans a reputation as the “best” in their trade. This is aptly illustrated perhaps by the reluctance of the government to pursue high level leaders of the Cartel, as opposed to the “low hanging fruit” of groups like the Beltran-Leyva Family, CDG, knights Templar and the Zetas. The Sinaloans have been masters of “soft” media manipulation: when they slaughter their rivals or potential threats to their own interests, they are very articulate at how they present their side of the story.
Their “narco-mantas” (the poorly spelled banners they hang up at the scene of the crime) give a rationale for their acts are less a taunt of their would-be rivals or those seeking to close down their industry, as it is a “sorry we had to do this” note… that they know will be reported, bad spelling and all. The bad spelling is probably intentional, cooked up by a hip PR company to create a popular image of the Sinaloans as “hill billies” simply trying to make a living, and not the sophisticated international luxury goods retailer and wholesaler that
One suspects the attention the Cartel pays to popular culture… commissioning corridos and other “low-brow” entertainment… is part of the same branding strategy. Certainly, they have been a successful business, and with their funds, are able — as with other multinationals — to underwrite political campaigns and to steer public policy towards their own interests.
Cartel de Sinaloa
-Major Mexican drug trafficking organization
- Also known as the Sinaloa Cartel, Pacific Cartel, Guzman-Loera Organization, the Federation, and the Golden Triangle.
-This cartel was formed in 1989.
-El Chapo Guzman is the leader of the Sinaloa cartel.
-El Chapo has been featured in Forbes and other lists as one of the richest and most powerful figures in the world.
-The cartel now controls the complete border from Tijuana to western Juarez
-Feuds include fighting with the Tijuana Cartel, the Los Zetas, the Juarez Cartel, and the Beltra-Leyva Cartel.
-Claims are often made that the Mexican government favours the Sinaloa cartel over others. Recent claims have been made that the US Federal Agents have favoured Sinaloa as well.
-Created in 1999 by former special forces deserters who used their skills to work for cartels.
-A major Mexican and Guatemalan drug trafficking organization
-Split from their main employer the Gulf Cartel in early 2010
-They turned from an armed wing into a full fledged drug trafficking organization
-The currently control the Nuevo Laredo corridor into Southwest Texas.
-They have spread their territory stretching from the Texas border to Guatemala.
-They have seized control of much of the human smuggling industry into the US, from Central America all the way into Texas. They are believed to be responsible for the massacre of 72 Central and South Americans in northern Mexico.
-They are currently fighting with the Gulf Cartel mainly, as well as the Sinaloa and La Familia cartels.
-The group is a favourite target by the Mexican and US Government because of their ruthless behaviour.
The Gulf Cartel
-Major Mexican drug trafficking organization
-One of the older Cartels, founded in the 1970′s.
-The cartel controls some of the Gulf coast of Mexico and the north-east border area of Mexico which sits against Texas.
-For years it was mostly peaceful in North-eastern Mexico while the Gulf Cartel held undisputed control of the area.
-Formerly oversaw and employed the Los Zetas. The Los Zetas are now their #1 rival.
-Feuds include fighting with the Los Zetas, the Juarez Cartel, Beltran-Leyva Cartel, and the Tijuana Cartel.
-Most fighting is currently within its disputed territory with the Los Zetas.
-Believed to be favoured over the Los Zetas by the Mexican and US Government.
Cartel de Juarez
-Also known as the Juarez Cartel and the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes Organization
-A minor drug trafficking organization, due to its recent loss of territory and power
-Formed in the 1970′s
-The cartel controls the El Paso and formerly the New Mexico corridors
-Their feud with the Sinaloa Cartel has been the source of much of the bloodshed in the drug war.
-They have lost much of their territory to Sinaloa, and some claim that Sinaloa has defeated this cartel, although the fighting still exists.
-The cartel overseas and mostly controls the La Linea and Barrio Azteca street gangs
-The group could soon lose its territory to the Sinaloa Cartel if a change of tides in the war doesn’t happen soon
-The group is believed to be a favorite target by the Mexican and US Governments
The New Federation
-This is an alliance of the La Familia, Gulf Cartel, and Sinaloa formed in 2010.
-They are together fighting the Los Zetas and the Juarez cartel.
-Reports of this alliance vary
-The Gulf Cartel reportedly reached out to the Sinaloa cartel for help in fighting and eliminating the Zetas.
THE OTHER MEXICAN CARTELS
The Knights Templars (Los Caballeros Templarios)
-Mexican drug trafficking organization
-This is a split faction from La Familia Michoacana.
-They are becoming one of Mexico’s leaders in methamphetamine manufacturing.
-They do not allow members to use drugs
New Generation Jalisco Cartel
-Mata Zetas (Zeta Killers) is the famous armed wing of this DTO
-This group is responsible for the mass Zeta killings in Veracruz
-A fairly new group in the scene
-Based in the Mexican State of Jalisco
-Claims to protect the people from kidnapping, extortion, and violence aimed at innocent citizens
-Tied with the Sinaloa Cartel
Cartel Del Pacifico Sur (South Pacific Cartel)
-Mexican dug trafficking organization
-A group aligned with the Beltran-Leyva Cartel.
-Group that El Ponchis, the 14 year old hitman was a member of.
-Believed to be more of a Beltran-Leyva cell than an independent cartel
Cartel De Tijuana
- Also known as the Tijuana Cartel and Arrellano-Felix Organization.
-Now a minor Mexico drug trafficking organization
-Formed in 1989
-The cartel controls the Baja California area and California border with Mexico.
-Once a notorious cartel, they have recently been depleted of upper ranking members and have attempted to maintain a low profile.
-The Cartel has known to have heavy influence into San Diego and Los Angeles areas.
-Feuds include fighting with the Sinaloa Cartel, Gulf Cartel, and La Familia
-It’s territory has been lost for the most part to the Sinaloa Cartel
-They have a pact to allow some drug trafficking through the now controlled Sinaloa corridors in the Tijuana area
La Familia Michoacana
- Also known as the La Familia and The Michoachan Family.
-Now a minor and borderline extinct Mexican drug trafficking organization
-Formed in the 1980′s, but was dependent on alliances with the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas until 2006.
-Originally formed as a vigilante group to help bring justice to Michocan.
-They control some of the Southern Mexican ports that bring in drugs from South America.
-Their new found alliance with the Gulf Cartel allows them access to some of the Northeastern corridors.
-Has a large faith based structure, handing out Bibles and helping their community heavily
-Feuds include fighting with Los Zetas, Juarez Cartel, and Tijuana Cartel
-Failed ceasefires with the Mexican Government and split factions by the Knights Templars have weakened the groups power
-A military type group that was fighting against the Los Zetas for control over Nuevo Laredo corridor
-Was formerly overseen by the Beltran-Leyva cartel. Was more recently ran by La Barbie, the famous Texan who rose to cartel stardom. Now that he is incarcerated it is hard to tell what will happen to this group.
Cartel de los Beltran-Leyva
-Formed in 2008 as a split faction from the Sinaloa Cartel
-Feuds include conflicts with Sinaloa, Gulf, and La Familia cartels
-Major allies with the Los Zetas
-Major rivals of the Cartel de Sinaloa
-Believed to be inactive because of arrests and killings of high ranking members
Cartel Del Colima
-A major synthetic drug cartel.
-Known as the meth kingpins.
-Has kept a low profile by avoiding violence
-Mexican drug trafficking organization
-Also known as Los Valencia
-Separated from the Juarez Cartel in 1999-Has maintained to stay out of the spotlight
-Once a rival of Los Zetas, currently joined forces with Zetas
-Grows natural drugs such as marijuana and opium
-Mexican drug trafficking organization
-Had early beginnings in the marijuana trade in the 1970′s
-Has also kept a low profile by avoiding violence
CIDA-Acapulco’s Independent Cartel
-Mexican drug trafficking organization
-A new and mainly unknown cartel in the Acapulco area fighting for control of the local port.
-It is yet to be seen if this cartel will disappear as a minor gang, or emerge as a local leader
-They are responsible for killing hit men that have been killing recklessly in Acapulco.
COLOMBIAN DRUG TRAFFICKING ORGANIZATIONS
(these groups supply Mexican cartels with cocaine)
Valle de Colombia Cartel
-Colombian cocaine trafficking group
-One of the most active Cartels in Colombia
-Is responsible for bringing much of the cocaine from South America to Mexico
-Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia
-Ties to communist Cuba, Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, the ETA of Spain, and other Marxist movements
-Aligned with the remnants of the Tijuana Cartel and the Juarez Cartel for cocaine shipments
-Claims to only supply drugs to support their political movement
-Known for high profile kidnappings
-Colombian cocaine trafficking group
-Partners with the Sinaloa Cartel and the Juarez Cartel for cocaine supplies
-Ariel routes from Eastern Colombia and Southwestern Venezuela for shipments
-Sea routes from the Pacific Coast of Colombia
-Former members of Norte de Valle who are partnered with Ejercito Revolucionario Popular Antiterrorista Colombiano. (Led by Pedro Oliveiro “Cuchillo” Guerrero and Daniel “El Loco” Barrera
-Colombian cocaine trafficking group
-Remaining members of army members of the AUC
-Positioned along the Panama border
-Aligned with the Gulf Cartel for cocaine trafficking
-Colombian cocaine trafficking group
-3rd generation Medellin based group
-Beltran-Leyva organization in Mexico is a major cocaine buyer from the group
CENTRAL AMERICAN DRUG TRAFFICKING ORGANIZATIONS & GANGS
(these groups transit drugs north, cash south, and weapons both ways. They also provide other services for Mexican and Colombian groups)
Mara Salvatrucha – MS -13
-Central American/ Los Angeles street gang
-They have been known to be employed in Southern Mexico, and in the United States to carry out hits, as well as move large amounts of drugs onto the streets by cartels
-They are involved in human smuggling into Mexico from Central America.
-They also share drug distribution and smuggling into Mexico and Central America
Barrio 18 ( M-18)
-Central American / Los Angeles street gang
-Began as a Mexican and Mexican American street gang in LA
-Now more prominent in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala
-Bitter rivals of MS-13
-Ties with the Los Zetas and Sinaloa Cartel are suspected
-El Salvador drug trafficking organization
-Transit drugs from Panama to Guatemala
-Most prominent Salvadorian trafficking group
-El Salvador based drug trafficking organization
-Leaders are prominent and respected businessmen
-Profit off of controlling drug transit routes
-Guatemalan drug and contraband trafficking organization
-Believed to have brought the Los Zetas into Guatemala as hired guns
-Highly connected to Guatemalan government
-Many members are believed to have fled to Belize
-Guatemalan drug and contraband trafficking organization
-Ties to the Sinaloa Cartel
-Many members believed to be in Belize
-Guatemalan drug trafficking organization
-Former cattle rustlers and car thieves
-The group was attacked by the Los Zetas in 2008
-Their territory is now believed to be run by the Zetas
MEXICAN & US STREET GANGS (These groups supply drugs from Mexico/Colombia to the streets, as well as fight in the streets for aligned cartels. MS-13 and M-18 belong to this group as well)
-Mexican drug trafficking group
-The armed force employed by the Juarez Cartel
-Responsible for much of the blood shed and drug smuggling activity on a daily basis
-The leader was recently apprehended and has admitted to ordering over 1500 murders in the Juarez area
-Responsible for much of the violence in the Juarez area
-Recently threatened US government employees in MexicoMano Con Ojos
-Mexico City based gang
-A break-away group from the demised Beltran-Leyva Cartel
-The group has brought violence to the Mexico City metro that has not been seen
-The gang is fighting for rising control of drug sales in Mexico City
-A street gang formed in El Paso, Texas. It now operates on both sides of the border.
-Mexican and Mexican-American gang
-In Mexico generally known as the Aztecas
-Are alligned with the Juarez Cartel and fighting the Mexicles and Artistas Asesinos
-They have been known to carry out contract hits for cartels on both sides of the border as well as moving large amounts of drugs
-Originates as a Texas prison gang
-Mexican and Mexican-American gang
-Declared war on the Barrio Azteca in 1999.
-Their war with the Barrio Azteca made them good candidates for the Sinaloa to hire them as hit men and grunts for the war against the Juarez cartel.
-Juarez street gang
-Aligned with the Sinaloa Cartel
-Used for day to day violence and drug distribution
-Also known as Los Doble A
The Mexican Mafia
-Also known as La Eme
-Mexican and Mexican-American gang
-They historically are known to be tied with the Tijuana Cartel.
-They have performed hits on both sides of the border for the Tijuana cartel, as well as moving large amounts of drugs onto the streets
West Africa Commission on Drugs calls for radical policy rethink to curb regional instability caused by narcotics trade
West African governments must treat drugs as a public health issue and consider partial decriminalisation to stop the region becoming "a new front line in the failed "war on drugs", a panel of experts convened by Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary general, has warned.
In a stark assessment of the corrosive effect the international drug trade is having on the area's security and development, the West Africa Commission on Drugs (WACD) says the region's combination of "political instability, unemployment and corruption" is proving increasingly attractive to those trafficking cocaine and heroin from South America and Asia into Europe and the US.
The commission says weak governance, legal loopholes and thriving informal economies have been luring drug cartels to west Africa since the mid-2000s, pointing out that the UN now puts the annual value of the cocaine moved through the region at $1.25bn (£745m).
Its report – Not Just in Transit: Drugs, the State and Society in West Africa – notes that the area has also become a producer and exporter of synthetic drugs such as amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS), which are not only consumed in the region but also shipped to south-east Asia.
The commission says the growing presence of drugs and drug money risks undermining the economic and political stability achieved by west African countries that have only recently emerged from years of conflict and violence. But it also points to a rising human cost as more west Africans take drugs, exacerbating public health problems such as HIV and hepatitis C.
Given the situation, says the commission, the time has come for a radical rethink of drug policy."We have concluded that drug use must be regarded primarily as a public health problem," says the report. "Drug users need help, not punishment. We believe that the consumption and possession for personal use of drugs should not be criminalised. Experience shows that criminalisation of drug use worsens health and social problems, puts huge pressures on the criminal justice system and incites corruption."
Cannabis is a case in point. The drug has long been grown as a cash crop, mainly for local consumption in countries such as Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal, and estimates from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) suggest much more cannabis is consumed in west Africa than cocaine, heroin or ATS. According to UNODC figures, estimated adult cannabis use in west and central Africa is 12.4%, compared with averages of 7.5% in Africa and 3.9% globally.
Such high usage is proving a drain on already scarce resources. Crop eradication efforts have failed to find quick and attractive alternatives for cannabis farmers, while police crackdowns designed to meet targets for arrests and seizures have been counterproductive. Most of those arrested for drug offences in Nigeria,Mali,Senegal,Ghana,Guinea and Sierra Leone tend to be small-scale cannabis dealers or users who spend a long time in pre-trial detention and often succumb to other illnesses while waiting to be sentenced or released (by paying a fine – or a bribe).
The report argues that the region's "poor, uneducated and vulnerable" should not be penalised for taking drugs when governments and law enforcement agencies should be using their funds and legal powers to stop the traffickers and their accomplices.
"What ultimately emerges from the evidence is that the harms of criminalisation far outweigh those of decriminalisation. West Africa would remove a huge weight from an already overburdened criminal justice system if it were to decriminalise drug use and possession, expand health and social services for those with problematic use, and expend greater effort in pursuing … traffickers … and rooting out corruption from within."
But the commission – chaired by the former Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo, and including members from Senegal, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Togo, Mauritania, Nigeria, Cape Verde and Mali – stresses that the problem is a global one.
Since west Africa neither produces nor consumes most of the drugs moved through it, "nations whose citizens consume large amounts of illicit drugs must play their part and seek humane ways to reduce demand for those drugs".
Annan, who launched the WACD in January last year, has previously called for countries to explore the decriminalisation of cannabis and urged the world to admit that the war on drugs has failed.
He said that drug traffickers who moved their business to west Africa following the loss of their Caribbean transit points had been quick to establish new networks – and equally quick to corrupt societies by bribing politicians, police, customs officials and the judiciary.
Kofi Annan has long been persuaded that west Africa needs to adopt a holistic approach to its drug problem.
"They're businesspeople; they look for other access," he said. "They settled on Guinea-Bissau, which was almost a failed state, and then it began to spread through the region. At the beginning, people thought it was just in transit – but no country remains in transit for long: the young people want to use it and then you also have loose money floating around in poor countries, and that undermines democracy."
The Ghanaian diplomat said his experiences as UN secretary general and on the Global Commission on Drugs Policy had convinced him that west Africa needed to adopt a more holistic approach to its drug problem.
If local governments wanted an example of what not to do, he added, they should look at the crime, terror and corruption suffered by parts of Latin America in recent decades.
"The US war on drugs has failed," said Annan. "If we go the same way with a failed war on drugs, or try the American or the Latin American route, there's no way we can sustain it; in fact, we might really destabilise our societies. We can adopt an approach that is health-based, that is educational, but be absolutely hard and harsh on the drug dealers and the barons and the big boys."
Although he is cautiously optimistic that the opposition to decriminalisation is beginning to recede – he points to the recent legalisation of marijuana in Uruguay and the US states of Washington and Colorado– the veteran diplomat knows that true change is likely to take a very long time.
"It's a fight that's not going to be won easily. Those of us who are engaged in this have to be ready to wake up every morning ready to fight it. You have to keep pushing; it's going to take a while."
Annan recalls the speech he made to the World Economic Forum in Davos last year, in which he said: "I believe that drugs have destroyed many people; but wrong government policies have destroyed many more."
Challenged on the dangers of decriminalisation and asked how he would reassure a mother who feared that the policy would, in effect, put drugs in her son's hand, he offered a different point of view.
"I would want to ask the same mother's neighbour, whose son was caught at college with half a gram and is in jail for 10 years and comes out completely destroyed, which would you prefer? The approach where you educate, you treat them medically and you advise, or the approach where you throw them in jail and spend more money on prisons than on your education?"
On one point, however, Annan is adamant: without honest and proper engagement by governments, civil society and individuals, there can be no global progress.
"If they sit back, who's going to do it for them? Each of us will have to ask ourselves a question: has the war on drugs been successful? And, if it has failed, what do we do? I'm not even asking them to embrace our position, just let them think it through. I'll be happy with that."
|Akasha Brothers & Co|
The target was a mansion in the wealthy beach suburb of Nyali. The policemen were banned from using their mobile phones and the names of the men they wanted were kept from them until two hours before the raid. Secrecy was deemed vital in a region known for its corruption.
The quarry that night were the alleged leaders of the Akasha Cartel The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) had spent years infiltrating Akasha and alleges that the gang is part of a heroin supply chain that stretches from the poppy fields of Afghanistan through east Africa to the cities of Europe and the United States.
Inside a mansion girded by palm trees and a two-metre cobblestone wall, police captured the alleged leader of the crime syndicate, Baktash Akasha, his brother Ibrahim, and two other men. Kenyan police charged them with trafficking narcotics to the United States. Prosecutors in the United States subsequently indicted all four on charges including conspiracy to import heroin.
In documents filed in a court in the Southern District of New York on Nov. 10, the U.S. prosecutors alleged that the Akasha cartel was responsible for the "production and distribution" of large quantities of narcotics in Kenya, Africa and beyond.
All the men deny the Kenyan charges and are fighting a U.S. request to have them extradited. Instead, they want their case heard in Kenya.
The raid was part of a wider effort by the DEA and Kenya to counter the growing power of drug cartels operating in east Africa. But while the raid was a success, the story of the operation highlights the many hurdles to slowing drug flows: corruption, porous land borders, poor maritime surveillance and a weak judiciary.
The operation, revealed in court documents and interviews, came at a crucial time. Law enforcement agencies are worried that a record opium harvest in Afghanistan will flood global heroin markets this year. The United Nations reported Afghan opium cultivation rose 7 percent in 2014. Western drug agencies are worried this will grow further following the withdrawal of all British and many American troops from Afghanistan.
Western officials are concerned that increased drug trafficking in east Africa could destabilise the region. They fear a repeat of what happened on the other side of Africa in Guinea-Bissau, which has been flooded with South American drugs. The United States has called that west African country Africa’s first "narco state."
Most Europe-bound Afghan heroin still goes through the established "Balkan route" via Iran and south-east Europe. But a spate of seizures along the Kenyan and Tanzanian coastline over the past few years points to a switch to a "southern route" via Africa.
Short of funds and anti-trafficking expertise, east African countries rely on the Combined Maritime Force (CMF) to go after drug traffickers. While the 30-nation naval force was set up to protect busy shipping lanes from Somali pirates, it is intercepting more and more drug deliveries. Last year it seized 3.4 tonnes of heroin, a 66 percent increase on 2013.
To help, Western law enforcement agencies are stepping up operations in east Africa and countries closer to Afghanistan. The DEA says it plans to re-open its office in Karachi, Pakistan, to work with DEA agents in Nairobi and with Pakistani authorities.
Britain, which estimates it is the destination for about 20 percent of the heroin shipped through east Africa, has also stepped up its presence in the region.
"Now it is not just about us here in Kenya," Hamisi Masa, the head of Kenya's elite Anti-Narcotics Unit, told Reuters. "The whole world is concerned."
THE FAMILY BUSINESS
The Akasha family has been involved in the drug trade for years, Western diplomats allege.
In the 1990s, the clan was led by Baktash's father Ibrahim. U.S. Embassy cables published by WikiLeaks describe Ibrahim Akasha as a drug baron. "The Akasha family long controlled drugs (then mostly hashish, heroin, cannabis) along Mombasa to Europe," said a cable dated Jan. 9, 2006.
In 2000, Ibrahim Akasha was killed in a drive-by shooting in Amsterdam's Red Light district, according to the cables. That dented the business and split the family. Baktash and his half-brother Nurdin, better known as Tinta, Ibrahim's son with another of his wives, accused each other of murder plots against the family. Tinta could not be reached for comment.
The DEA had been monitoring the Akashas for years, according to Cliff Ombeta, a lawyer representing the Akashas in Kenya.
By 2014, when the agency began the operation to catch the Akashas, Baktash had taken over the family business. A burly man with a receding hairline, he had built
close links with major Pakistani heroin traffickers, the DEA alleges.
One such contact, the U.S. indictment states, was Gulam Hussein, also known as the "Old Man." Hussein had lived on and off in Kenya since 2012. The indictment describes him as "the head of a transportation network that distributes massive quantities of narcotics throughout the Middle East and Africa."
|The Old Man|
Another alleged contact was Vijaygiri Goswami, an Indian businessman who had spent more than a decade in a Dubai jail for drug trafficking offences. Goswami is married to 1990s Bollywood star Mamta Kulkarni and had built business empires in Zambia and South Africa.
Goswami and Hussein were captured with the Akasha brothers in the Mombasa raid. As well as the heroin charges, U.S. prosecutors have charged the Akashas and Goswami with conspiracy to import methamphetamines, according to the indictment in the New York court.
None of the men have pleaded to the U.S. charges, according to Daniel Arshack, a New York-based lawyer for Goswami. He said he was confident all four men will not be extradited. "We have no reason to believe that the allegations in the U.S. indictment are supported by facts," he said.
According to U.S. court documents and to Kenyan lawyer Ombeta, who represents not just the Akashas but also Goswami and Hussein, the DEA sting started in March last year.
Ombeta told Reuters the sting against his clients amounted to entrapment.
An undercover DEA source posing as a member of a Colombian drugs cartel was introduced to Baktash by a friend of the Akashas. The friend "was also a DEA agent," Ombeta said.
The DEA would not discuss details of its operatives or informants. Ombeta said the man pretending to work for the Colombians was a Moroccan national who had been jailed for a drug trafficking offence in the United States. Peppering his conversation with talk of a private jet and ambitious business plans, the man cultivated an image of opulence, Ombeta said.
Soon after their first meeting, the Moroccan man gave 3 million Kenyan shillings ($32,870) in cash to the Akashas as a goodwill gesture, Ombeta said. "He was flashing money so they could see this was someone who has money and is ready to buy."
The Moroccan man told Baktash Akasha that the Colombians wanted to buy high-quality heroin to sell in the United States, according t+o prosecutors. In one of many conversations recorded by the DEA, Baktash allegedly said that he could get them unlimited amounts of "white crystal," a reference to pure heroin.
Weeks later, Baktash allegedly told one of his Pakistani suppliers that the Colombians wanted 500 kg (1,100 lb) of "carat diamond," a reference to high quality heroin. The supplier replied the heroin would cost them about $12,000 per kg and said that he had 420 kg of pure heroin.
As the DEA source was negotiating with the Akashas, the CMF naval force made a series of seizures in Indian Ocean waters off Kenya, Tanzania and the island of Zanzibar. The U.S. extradition document links at least one of these shipments to Hussein.
In April 2014, CMF forces boarded a traditional wooden dhow and found a tonne of heroin stashed among cement bags. That was roughly equal to all the heroin that 11 east African governments had seized between 1990 and 2009, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.
Then in July, for the first time ever, Kenya's navy made a major heroin seizure. Tipped off by a Western agency, it intercepted a rusting vessel that had set off from Pakistan. A week after they towed the ship into port in Mombasa, officials discovered nearly 800 kg of heroin in its diesel tank.
According to a U.S. extradition document, the man responsible for that second shipment was Gulam Hussein. U.S. court documents allege Hussein told undercover DEA sources he had transported "tons of kilograms of heroin by sea."
Undeterred by the seizure, Hussein, the Akashas and Goswami allegedly set about agreeing a deal on their upcoming shipment.
In mid-September, Baktash told the Moroccan man that a heroin supplier known as "The Sultan" had sent a representative with a one kilogram sample of heroin for the Colombians to test, court documents allege. The shipment arrived in Kenya in October. Goswami allegedly told the Moroccan that he was working with Baktash to get another 500 kg.
As the sting neared its end, the DEA and Kenyan authorities grew worried that word would leak.
Junior officers in the Kenyan police earn less than $200 a month. Such low pay helps fuel corruption, according to Kenyan officials. "Drugs barons have bought some of our officers and this is very sad," Mombasa County Commissioner Nelson Marwa told journalists in December."We have information that police vehicles and ambulances are being used to transport drugs within (Mombasa) county and the coast region."
The Mombasa police rejected this claim. It said Marwa’s statement was "shocking" but promised to conduct an internal investigation.
In the days leading up to the raid, Kenya's Anti-Narcotics Unit (ANU) suddenly transferred nearly 30 police officers, including some of its own men, away from the Mombasa region.
Local media linked the redeployments to the Akasha bust, saying most of the policemen were moved because of corruption fears. Hamisi Masa, the ANU chief, told Kenyan press he was behind the transfers, but called it a "regular" move.
Fearful of possible corruption, the DEA has in the last three years helped set up a special "vetted" unit within the ANU. Officers who want to join the inner circle have to pass extra checks including polygraph tests. Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) carries out similar vetting and due diligence checks with local security officials. It is also beefing up its Kenya team.
In early November, Baktash's brother Ibrahim allegedly delivered 98 kg of heroin to the man from the Colombian cartel in Nairobi, unaware that the DEA was clandestinely recording their meetings. A couple of days later, he allegedly delivered 1 kg of methamphetamines.
Soon after, Ibrahim left Nairobi on a commercial flight to Mombasa, and the DEA and ANU made their move.
ANU officers handpicked several regular policemen to provide back-up and then hid in a mansion opposite the Akasha home. At about 1.30 am on Nov. 10, they launched their raid, arresting the men and confiscating laptops, tablets, mobile phones and cars.
"There was no resistance ... just shock that they had been caught completely unaware," said one member of the Anti-Narcotics Unit.
The four men have also told their lawyer that their initial mistrust of the Moroccan man had receded as he splashed more and more cash around.
Drug use in Kenya has risen fast in the past few years, according to religious leaders, politicians and charities working to tackle the problem. They say domestic use has soared as international drug cartels have turned east Africa into a major transit route for narcotics from Afghanistan. Some of the drugs spill onto the localmarket, they say.
Juma Ngao, a director at Kenya's National Authority for Campaign against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (NACADA) said the Indian Ocean port towns of Mombasa, Malindi and Lamu have been hardest hit because most drug shipments come by sea.
The problem has become a political issue, with many Kenyans concerned it willfuel the region's rising crime and poor security. A spate of Islamist attacks on bars, non-Muslims and other targets has already dented the coastal region's tourism industry. The growing drug problem could further harm an area best known for sun and sand.
Yet with Mombasa's police and some politicians often accused of corruption and involvement in the drugs trade, many Kenyans are despondent about the country’s prospects of kicking its new addiction.
The three seizures roughly equalled the amount captured by 11 east African governments between 1990 and 2009, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.The hauls proved once again how Kenya and East Africa waters have become a key export route for heroin from Asia to Europe.
Kenya's drug routes
In December 2004 a seizure marked a turning point in Africa drugs trade. It was the biggest ever: 1.1 tonnes coming in a vessel docked at Mombasa port. Cocaine has been seized in Malindi, Mombasa (837.5 Kg) and Nairobi (304 Kg) . The street value was estimated in 80 million USD. Narcotics allegedly came from Colombia through Venezuela. This large cocaine seizure haul involved all the big players both in politics and drug trafficking in Kenya.
Mwau's vast wealth is not from honest hard work. He is Kenya's biggest drug trafficker, and in two decades has earned hundreds of millions of dollars from illegally moving cocaine into Kenya, the United States and Europe. Mwau began his career as a sharpshooter in the Kenyan police in his 20s. He joined the Kenyan parliament in the Kilome province in 1992 under his own brand new
political party: PICK (Party of Independent Candidates of Kenya). He left his seat in 2013.
In December that year, Kenyan authorities seized in Nairobi, Mombasa and Malindi an astonishing 1,21 tonnes of cocaine. The African Business magazine suggests the cargo came from Venezuela and Colombia, and was destined for Ireland and the Netherlands. It was the largest drug haul ever in Kenya's history. Shortly after, investigators raided the depot of Pepe Enterprises Ltd, a Mombasa -based company allegedly owned by John Mwau. The company has a warehouse located at the Athi River in the outskirts of Nairobi, where it is suspected that part of the narcotics shipment found its way there.
The report named Mwau as a violent drug dealer involved in money laundering and contract killings. “In 2008," the report continues, "John Harun Mwau, following his appointment as assistant transport minister, appears to have been responsible for Kenya’s container transport arrangements” and “for the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA), which controls all ports of entry and inland container terminals in Kenya”. The manager of the depot was charged for drug trafficking but was acquitted for lack of
But the toughest blows to Mwau's jaw were yet to come. Prior to 2007, Mwau was under investigation with two other suspects for having allegedly provided large sums of money to the election coffers of the PNU (Party of National Unity), headed by Mwai Kibaki, at that time the Kenyan president. Mwau resigned from his trade assistant minister post in December 2010 after Internal Security minister, George Saitoti, informed the Parliament that MPs Ali Hassan
Joho, William Kabogo, John Harun Mwau and Gideon Mbuvi, and Mombasa tycoon Ali Punjani were being investigated for alleged drug trafficking.
According to local press reports, Mwau's resignation came one month after U.S. ambassador for Kenya, Michael Ranneberger, handed over a detailed confidential report made by American anti-narcotics agencies. All U.S. assets in which Mwau held more than 50% shares were frozen. The U.S. Treasury Department believes Mwau used overseas tournaments and his status to start moving narcotics. In the same period, Mwau visited Colombia quite often: according to top sources, Mwau set up his links with drug traffickers at that time.
The accusations thrown in the Parliament by former minister Saitoti were based on a joint investigation run by US law enforcement and Kenyan government. Strongest allegations moved the investigation at the beginning, less concrete in the later evidence. The confirmation is John Harun Mwau's investigation: in February the "Interim report on drug trafficking investigations" by Kenyan police concluded: "No evidence has so far been found to link him to drug trafficking".
In 2012 the main accuser, professor George Saitoti, died in an helicopter crash on the outskirts of Nairobi: Al Shabaab militias and drug traffickers are the main suspects for the disaster. Investigations have not yet found anyone guilty. In 2011, the United States sanctioned Mwau under the Kingpin Act, and is currently working to seize $750m of his investments there.
|The main accuser, professor George Saitoti, died in an helicopter crash|
“The US never apologises for killing its enemies, real or imagined." Mwau said in 2011. "They will violate other nations’ airspace and eliminate their targets. The task of justification is left to themselves”. Mwau also claimed that he had every reason to believe that the move by the US government to designate him as a significant foreign narcotics drug trafficker was tailored to make him an easy target for elimination.
In January 2014, the National Authority for Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse in Kenya (NACADA), invited by John Harun Mwau to say whether they had any evidence linking him with the drug trade, cleared the former politician of any involvement in drug trafficking. But, as reported in the Daily Nation piece on the subject, "Nacada is a State agency and chairmen of such institutions do not have the powers to clear individuals of any past or present allegations”.
Politics and Drugs: The Johos Brothers
A report issued in 2010 by the U.S. Embassy in Kenya and cited in Parliament by then Internal Security Minister George Saitoti says that MPs Joho, William Kabogo, John Harun Mwau, Gideon Mbuvi and Mombasa tycoon Ali Punjani, are among the most dangerous drug traffickers in the country. The document were also signed by then U.S. ambassador Michael Ranneberger.
The report describes how Abubakar Joho and his brother Ali Hassan are in charge of a multi-million euro trafficking empire. Abubarak was the first of the two to enter the drug trade. According to the U.S. report, Abubakar Joho “was the clearing agent for containers that held a one ton shipment of cocaine seized in 2004.
The influence of Abubakar on Ali Hassan is typical of an elder brother towards his younger. According to the American document, it was Abubakar who insisted and convinced Ali Hassan to enter politics. When a young Ali Hassan Joho runs and wins the 2007 elections as a representative of the Mombasa region in the national parliament,shortly after, the report suggests, his career in the drug trade began.
The report reads that the political campaign that granted him the regional political seat was funded by Swaleh Kandereni, Billy Mahandi and Swaleh Ahmed who were all rested in Mombasa under drug trafficking charges in 2010. According to the American document, Kandereni allegedly was a major supplier to dealers in the coastal town of Malindi. Another of Joho’s influential campaigners was suspected narcotics trafficker Ali Punjabi.
Since 2010 the Kenyan Anti Narcotics Unit have suspected Ali Hassan Joho to be involved in the narcotics trade, however due to Joho’s “political position and financial resources it is unclear what the [Kenyan] police intended to do with that evidence”, the report ends.
|Amiran Kenya's MD|
Ali Hassan Joho is also a close acquaintance to Mary Wambui, according to the U.S. report, Wambui often met with Hassan and promoted his candidacy for a seat in the regional parliament of Kisauni in 2007. Former Othaya MP Mary Wambui, has been stalked by controversy since she came to the limelight soon after the 2007 election.
In a communication intercepted by Wikileaks in 2006, then US ambassador to Kenya Michael Bellamy linked Ms Wambui to narcotics trafficking and the Artur brothers’ entry into the country.
Mr Bellamy said from interviews he conducted with key people, Ms Wambui, whom he referred to as “Second Lady”, allegedly worked with then State House adviser Stanley Murage and CID boss Joseph Kamau to conceal the identity of the Armenian brothers.
KTN Senior Investigative Editor MOHAMMED ALI and Senior Investigative Reporter DENNIS ONSARIGO disclosed how several tonnes of the cocaine went missing, how key suspects were allowed to escape and how two State prosecutions were deliberately mishandled.
They also shone a light on the drastic lengths to which Kenya’s drug barons and their friends in high places go to ensure their secrets remain protected. At least four police officers and one spy investigating or connected to drug-related cases have been killed in mysterious circumstances, the team reported.
More than one source suggests the State was tricked into hiring enforcers working for drug traffickers who wanted to recover the 1.2 tons of cocaine being held in Kenya.
Investigations by Standard Group journalists show key State agents and politically connected people had a hand in bringing the men to Kenya and embedding several of them as senior police officers in the Criminal Investigations Department. This is why they received help and protection from various State agents who believed they were in Kenya on legitimate, Government-sanctioned operations.
|CID boss Joseph Kamau|
The man who appeared to be their leader has been videotaped saying he was hired to set up a secret police unit to deal with drug trafficking using foreign “soldiers of fortune”. Artur Margaryan, who uses a false name, says this was why he was appointed as deputy police commissioner, serving under then CID boss Joseph Kamau.
Our investigations have identified at least six accomplices of the so-called ‘Artur brothers’ who entered Kenya around 2006. Like Artur Margaryan and Artur Sargasyan, some of the six men used several false names and travel documents to move in and out of the country when conducting their activities.
Most were from Eastern bloc or former Soviet Union countries and have been described by American diplomats as being possibly Russians, Bosnians or Ukrainians. Other sources say the men were enforcers for the Russian mafia, which has been linked to the drug trade in Latin America and is made up of criminals from Eastern bloc nations.
They first came up on the radar when Ibrahim Akasha was brought to court in 1996 on drug trafficking. Ibrahim Akasha hired a Yugoslavian crew to move his product to Europe. This new crew was linked up to an international syndicate based in Amsterdam: at the top of the Dutch gang was Sam Klepper, a notorious drug trafficker born in the Netherlands.
Akasha’s inside men in Amsterdam were the Barsoums brother, Mounir and Magdi. For a couple of years the new collaboration between the Dutch and the Kenyan gangs ran smoothly. The party turned sour in 1999 when a payment for a drug consignment failed to arrive. The Akasha Cartel responded by abducting the Dutch gang’s Yugoslavian crew member from which they managed to ransom for USD 211k
|Streten “Jotcha” Jocic|
According to Kenyan intelligence, The Netherlands was the final destination of the huge haul of 1,2 tons of cocaine cargo seized in 2004. The US Drug Enforcement Agency “had spent years infiltrating Akasha and alleges that the gang is part of a heroin supply chain that stretches from the poppy fields of Afghanistan through east Africa to the cities of Europe and the United State. In documents filed in a court in the Southern District of New York on November 10th, 2014, the U.S. prosecutors alleged that the Akasha Cartel was responsible for the “production and distribution” of large quantities of narcotics in Kenya, Africa and beyond.
In November 2014, the U.S. government requested the extradition of Baktash Akasha Abdallah, Ibrahim Akasha Abdallah and co.However the Baktash brothers, Vijaygiri Goswami and the old man were all freed on bail in March 2015. Baktash paid a USD 325.000 bail to be freed.
They behead people by the hundreds. They heap headless, handless bodies along roadsides as warnings to those who would resist their power. They havepenetrated the local, stateand national governments and control entire sections of the country. They provide employment and services to an impoverished public, which distrusts their actual government with its bitter record of corruption, repression, and torture. They seduce young people from several countries, including the United States, into their murderous activities.
|Driven By Money|
|Driven By Religion|
|Masked New Generation Cartel|
|Masked ISIS Members|
And as the national security state have used the spectre of IS to create an atmosphere of panic and hysteria in the USA, so have they also used the drug cartels' grotesque theatre of violence to justify their demonization of immigrants from Latin America and the massive militarization of America’s borderlands.
The War in Mexico
If there was an official beginning to Mexico's war on drugs, it would have to be considered the election of Felipe Calderón as the country’s president in 2006. The candidate of the right-wing Partido Acción Nacional, the National Action Party (PAN), Calderón was only the second Mexican president in 70 years who did not come from the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). His predecessor, Vicente Fox, had been the first.
It was Calderón who, with encouragement and assistance from the United States, changed Mexico's war on drugs from a metaphor into the real thing, in which guns and grenades would fuel the deaths of more than 60,000 Mexicans through 2012. Thats 25 times the US military death tollin the Afghanistan war, 13 times more than the US military death toll in the Iraq war.
The current president, Enrique Peña Nieto of the PRI, admits that another 27,000 Mexicans were murdered in the first year of his presidency. To put that into perspective the 17 EU countries recorded 125 gunshot homicides for 2011, or three times more than the US in the same period. 25,000 more have been disappeared since 2007. It was Calderón who brought the Mexican military fully into the fight against drugs, transforming an ineffective policing policy into a full-scale shooting war with the cartels. At least 50,000 military personnel have been deployed.
In addition to ordinary citizens, journalists and politicians have been particular targets in this war. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that murders of Mexican reporters have increased dramatically since 2006. Among those whose killers have been positively identified, 69% died at the hands of the drug cartels, and at least 22% were killed by government or military personnel.
Wikipedia lists over 100 politicians who have lost their lives in Mexico's war on drugs. That list does not include a woman named Aide Nava González, whose headless body was dumped this month on a road in Guerrero state. Nava was contending for the Partido Revolución Democrática, the Democratic Revolution Party, slot on the ballot in the town of Ahuacuotzingo. Her husband, the former mayor, had been murdered there last year. A note from Los Rojos, a local drug gang, was left with Nava's
"This is what will happen," it read, "to anyone who does not fall in line, fucking turncoats."
hand the students over to the gang and has been arrested, along with his wife. The town’s police chief is still on the run.
Like the "war on terror" globally, Mexico’s war on drugs has created endless new pretexts for government repression, which has its own lengthy history in that country. That history includes the long-remembered police murders of some 300 students, among the thousands protesting in Mexico City's Plaza de las Tres Culturas a couple of weeks before the Summer Olympics began in 1968. Juan Méndez, the U.N.'s Special Rapporteur on Torture, wrote in his 2014 mission report on Mexico:
"The National Human Rights Commission recorded an increase in the number of complaints of torture and ill-treatment since 2007 and reported a peak of 2,020 complaints in 2011 and 2,113 in 2012, compared with an annual average of 320 in the six years prior to 2007. Between December 2012 and July 2014, the Commission received 1,148 complaints of violations attributable to the armed forces alone."
What is not difficult to pinpoint is the nature of the torture. Méndez notes the "disturbing similarities" in the complaints of those tortured. The police and the military are regularly reported to use a combination of "punches, kicks, and beatings with sticks; electric shocks through the application of electrical devices such as cattle prods to their bodies, usually their genitals; asphyxiation with plastic bags; water-boarding; forced nudity; suspension by their limbs; [and] threats and insults."
Washington Fights a “War” in Mexico
Who pays for Mexico's war on drugs? You won’t perhaps be too surprised to learn that the United States foots a major part of the bill. Between 2008 and 2014, Congress has appropriated $2.4 billion to fight the cartels, as part of the Mérida Initiative, a "security cooperation agreement" between the U.S. and Mexican governments. That money supportsa failed warin which tens of thousands have been killed and thousands more tortured.
|"El Ponchis", the 14-year-old cartel hitman for Los Zetas|
|ISIS Child Soldiers|
Seventy percent of the guns used in Mexico's drug wars also come from this country. Most are purchased at one or another of the 6,700 licensed firearms sales outlets along the U.S.-Mexico border. The University of San Diego's Trans-Border Institute estimates that, between 2010 and 2012, about 253,000 firearms were bought each year for transfer to Mexico. And most of them made it across the border. The Institute reports that "Mexican authorities have seized roughly 12.7% of the total annual
trade" in weapons. U.S. interdiction efforts account for a measly 2% of those seized.
And not all of the weapons that ended up in Mexico did so against the wishes of the U.S. government. In the debacle known as "Fast and Furious," the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) allowed "more than 2,000 weapons, including hundreds of AK-47-type semi-automatic rifles and .50 caliber rifles," to "walk" across the border and into the hands of the Mexican cartels. Its ostensible purpose was to follow the guns in hopes that they would lead to the arrest of
high-level cartel leaders. But relevant agencies of the Mexican government were never informed about the operation, and it seems that there was no actual effort to track the weapons once they crossed the Mexican border. The weapons turned up at crime scenes in both Mexico and the United States. On December 14, 2010, near the Mexican border in Arizona, one of them killed Brian Terry, a U.S. Border Patrol agent.
ATF wasn't the only agency involved in "Fast and Furious." Personnel from ICE, the Department of Homeland Security, the DEA, and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Arizona also participated, along with the FBI and the IRS.
Nor was the Mexican government entirely informed, although it seems clear that one man, Eduardo Medina Mora, knew about it. A former director of Mexico's equivalent of the CIA, Medina is considered the "legal architect" of that country’s drug war. He was Mexico's attorney general when Fast and Furious got under way. By 2010, he'd been removed from that post (possibly because one of his top deputies was arrested for taking bribes from the cartels) and appointed ambassador to the United Kingdom.
|Eduardo Medina Mora|
The Pentagon and CIA are also involved in Mexico in significant ways. Since at least 2011, the Pentagon has deployed both piloted aircraft and drones in the Mexican war on drugs. The CIA has also sent operatives to do intelligence gathering. And without specifying which agencies are responsible for such activities, the New York Times reports that "the United States has trained nearly 4,500 new [Mexican] federal police agents and assisted in conducting wiretaps, running informants, and interrogating suspects.” Furthermore, the "Pentagon has provided sophisticated equipment, including Black Hawk helicopters.”
|Earl Anthony Wayne|
The Drug War Comes Home (Along With Plenty of Blowback)
All in all, the U.S. drug war in Mexico has been an abject failure. In spite of high-profile arrests, including in 2014 Joaquín "El Chapo” Guzmán, Guzman's stunning second escape from a maximum-security prison in July 2015 sparked an immediate, massive manhunt for the Sinaloa Cartel head.
Skepticism has emerged about the official story regarding the escape of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman from the country’s most sophisticated, maximum security prison.
According to confidential sourses Mexico Attorney General Arely Gomez told President Enrique Peña Nieto that Chapo did not escape via an elaborate mile-long tunnel, but walked out the front door. The tunnel excavation project would have required the workers to remove over seven tons of dirt, sand, and other materials. This would have required trucks with 20-ton capacity to make close to 400 trips to the small, lonely house on the hill overlooking the prison. And doubts have circulated around other small details, such as why Chapo had hair in the video showing him just And doubts have circulated around other small details, such as why Chapo had hair in the video showing him just prior to his escape,prior to his escape, yet in the picture the authorities provided to the public following his escape, he is bald.
|One Mile Tunnel|
The Washington Post reports that almost 9% of Americans “age 12 or older -- 22.6 million people -- are current users of illegal drugs, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration." That represents a one-third increase over the 6.2% in 1998. It takes a lot of infrastructure to move that much product.
And that's where U.S.-based gangs come in. Urban gangs in the United States today are not the Sharks and Jets of West Side Story. Certainly, there are still some small local groups formed by young people looking for family and solidarity on the streets. All too often, however, today's gangs represent the well-run distribution arm of the international drug trade.
In Chicago alone, 100,000 people work in illegal drug distribution, selling mostly into that city's African-American community.Gang membership is skewing older every year, as gangs transform from local associations to organized, powerfully armed criminal enterprises. Well over half of present gang members are adults now. The communities where they operate live in fear, caught between the gangs that offer them employment while threatening their safety and militarized police forces they do not trust.
Just like U.S. military adventures in the Middle East and Afghanistan, the U.S.-Mexico war on drugs has only left a larger problem in place, while producing blow back here at home. A particularly nasty example is the cartels' use of serving U.S. military personnel and veterans as hit men here in the United States.
On July 25 an El Paso, Texas court handed down a life sentence to Army private first-class Michael Apodaca, 22, after he admitted to beingrecruited and paid $US5,000 by the Juarez Cartel to shoot and kill Jose Daniel Gonzalez-Galeana, a cartel member who had been outed as an
informant for U.S. customs.
|Soldiers Of Fortune|
But the effects are far bigger than that. The DEA told the Washington Post that Mexican cartels are operating in more than 1,200 U.S. cities. In all those cities, the failed war on drugs has put in prison 2.3 million people -- in vastly disproportionate numbers from communities of colour -- without cutting demand by one single kilo.
$177.26. is the retail price, according to Drug Enforcement Administration data, of one gram of pure cocaine from your typical local pusher. That is 74 percent cheaper than it was 30 years ago when the war on drugs began.This number contains pretty much all you need to evaluate the Mexican and American governments’ “war” to eradicate illegal drugs from the streets of the United States.
Conceived to eradicate the illegal drug market, the war on drugs cannot be won. Once they understand this, the Mexican and American governments may consider refocusing their strategies to take aim at what really matters: the health and security of their citizens, communities and nations.
Prices match supply with demand. If the supply of an illicit drug were to fall, say because the Drug Enforcement Administration stopped it from reaching the nation’s shores, we should expect its price to go up.
That is not what happened with cocaine. Despite billions spent on measures from spraying coca fields high in the Andes to jailing local dealers in Miami or Washington,a gram of cocaine cost about 16 percent less last year than it did in 2001. The drop is similar for heroin and methamphetamine. The only drug that has not experienced a significant fall in price is marijuana. The most enthusiastic supporters of the war on drugs are the cartels themselves and those that work with them because without the war on drugs they would all be out of business.
And yet, though that war has only visibly increased the drug problem in the same way that the war on terror has generated ever more terror organizations, in both cases there’s no evidence that any other course than war is being considered in Washington.
International global drug cartels have ploughed millions of dollars into a secret system letting key players keep in touch.
Last night one insider with knowledge of the network claimed underworld bosses running a $40 billion criminal empire recruited experts to design a special hi-tech kit that can’t be bugged, tracked or decoded. The secret system is being used in Colombia, West Africa, Spain, the Middle East and Britain to seal drugs and arms deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
The ground breaking devices are disguised to look like everyday household items. Faced with the threat of PRISM, a clandestine mass electronic surveillance data mining program known to have been operated by the United States National Security Agency and GCHQ. DTOs at the very highest level of the criminal underworld are playing spies at their own game.
The narcos new technology will make it “almost impossible” to track major drug deals around the world. The confidential source said: “Imagine having a piece of equipment that is bug-proof and completely secure through which numbers, dates, times and places are detailed. It’s a piece of equipment so cleverly disguised you would not have a clue it was being used for something else.
The Los Zetas Cartel already operate a vast telecommunications network involving two-way radios, encrypted, secure radio networks, computers and burner cell phones. The original Zetas experience in the military lead to a number of innovative techniques in the Zetas operations including successfully using existing networks securely and building their own radio systems.
“There’s no longer any need for face-to-face meetings, so no more getting caught by surveillance.
“No longer is there a need for pay-as-you-go phones you can throw away or ‘chatting’ on PlayStation forums. A few weeks ago police raided a house in which this form of COM system was being used.
“Organised crime has moved on, the communication idea was bankrolled at the top level and IT and encryption specialist unconnected to the cartels were brought in to devise a suitable plan and implement a system.
“I would say tens of millions have been spent on securing a network that enables people to do business in a safe and risk-free way.”
He said the system was being used by all the major players in the drugs trade, including in Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Mexico, The Caribbean,West Africa and Spain.
It faces“rife corruption” in West Africa where our insider accused some governments of sending out military ships to target traffickers smuggling tons of cocaine through international waters.
Once escorted to shore, he said drug runners are ordered to hand over hundreds of thousands of dollars before the shipments are handed back.
“The Government gets brownie points for the big drug bust and pockets a nice backhander too.
“The cocaine isn't destroyed – it’s simply sent to its destination via a different route. Latin American cocaine traffickersmay also be using submarines to move the Europe-bound drugs across the Atlantic Ocean, cocaine seizures have gone down throughout the region, at the same time that consumption in West Africa is going up. A United Nations report showed that the illicit flow of cocaine through the region boomed, surpassing even the GDP of some of the countries through which the drugs were trafficked.
Trying To Avoid PRISM
Scalability to support surveillance of large, complex IP networks (such as the Internet).
High-speed packet processing performance, which enables it to sift through the vast quantities of information that travel over the Internet. Normalization, Correlation, Aggregation and Analysis provide a model of user, element, protocol, application and network behaviours in real-time. That is it can track individual users, monitor which applications they are using (e.g., web browsers, instant messaging applications, e-mail) and what they are doing with those applications (e.g., which web sites they have visited, what they have written in their emails/IM conversations), and see how users' activities are connected to each other (e.g., compiling lists of people who visit a certain type of web site or use certain words or phrases in their e-mail messages. High reliability from data collection to data processing and analysis. Its functionality can be configured to feed a particular activity or IP service such as security lawful intercept or even Skype detection and blocking.
The intercepted data flows in to a Intercept Suite. This data is stored and analysed for surveillance and forensic analysis. Other capabilities include playback of streaming media, rendering of web pages, examination of e-mail and the ability to analyse the payload/ attachments of e-mail or file transfer protocols. Other software, such as Pen-Link, offer the ability to quickly analyse information collected by the Directed Analysis or Lawful Intercept modules.
A single terminal can monitor traffic equal to the maximum capacity (10 Gbit/s) of around 39,000 256k DSL lines or 195,000 56k telephone modems. But, in practical terms, since individual internet connections are not continually filled to capacity, the 10 Gbit/s capacity of just one installation enables it to monitor the combined traffic of several million broadband users.
Intercept Suite (NIS) is a network traffic intelligence system that supports real-time precision targeting, capturing and reconstruction of web-mail traffic... including Google Gmail, MSN Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail". However, currently most web-mail traffic can be HTTPS encrypted, so the content of messages can only be monitored with the consent of service providers.
The system can also perform semantic analysis of the same traffic as it is happening, in other words analyse the content, meaning, structure and significance of traffic in real time. The exact use of this data is not fully documented, as the public is not authorized to see what types of activities and ideas are being monitored.
Strange Bed Fellows
Los Zetas and the Sinaloa Cartel are using Atlantic Ocean drug routes to West Africa and perhaps working together on logistics to deliver shipments to Europe to achieve a shared common goal. If the Saudis and Israelis can find common ground working together why not the two competing cartels.
Once organized crime groups have smuggled the narcotics – cocaine, marijuana, heroin and synthetic drugs – into West Africa, they transport them, often in vehicles or small air planes, to Europe. Other transnational criminal organizations based in other parts of Latin America also are trafficking drugs to Europe through West Africa, authorities said.
Among the criminal groups which are sending greater amounts of drugs to Europe through West Africa include the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian Norte del Valle cartel. Latin American drug traffickers are using two basic methods to transport drugs to Africa and Europe, authorities said:
By sea, transnational criminal organizations hide drugs in large ships that travel from Latin America to Africa and Europe. Drug traffickers set up fake export operations and hide their drugs in the cargo of the phony export businesses, authorities said. Once the large ships have reached their ports, organized crime operatives often use smaller “fast boats” to transport the drugs from the ship to land;
By air, organized crime groups hire travellers who are known as“drug mules,” to hide drugs in their luggage, clothes or even inside their bodies.
Once the drugs have reached West Africa, drug traffickers often load the drugs into land vehicles, such as SUVs, and transport them to their distribution points in Europe.
Security forces in Latin America and the United States have succeeded in recent years in slowing the amount of drugs smuggled north to the U.S. and Mexico by transnational criminal organizations.
This success has made the Atlantic drug routes to Africa and Europe more important to narco-traffickers, said security analyst Alfredo Rangel Suárez, the director of the Democracy and Security Centre at Colombia’s Sergio Arboleda University.
“The fight against crime and the closing of border crossings by authorities in countries where cocaine is directly introduced have forced the FARC, Los Zetas and the Sinaloa cartel to look for new routes to satisfy demand in the European drug market, which means ports in Western Africa,” Rangel Suárez said.
For Colombian narco-traffickers, “the Atlantic route is becoming more important than the Pacific one,” according to the World Drug Report 2013 of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
Many Brazilian drug traffickers ultimately transport their drugs to Portugal in part because they speak Portuguese, making communication easier, according to the UNODC report.
Sixteen African countries comprise the main points of entry for Latin American drug traffickers, according to a report by the American Police Community (AMERIPOL), a continental police organization of 18 countries in the Americas, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala,Haiti, Nicaragua, and the United States.
The African countries commonly used as entry ports are: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea,Guinea Bissau,Liberia,Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria,Senegal,Togo and Sierra Leone.
Los Zetas and the Sinaloa cartel
Two Mexican transnational criminal organizations, Los Zetas and the Sinaloa cartel, smuggle cocaine from Colombia, Ecuador, and Brazil into Sierra Leone and then to Europe, according to Rangel Suárez. Los Zetas and the Sinaloa cartel, which is led by fugitive kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, often collaborate with other Latin American organized crime groups.
|Faces of The FARC|
“This alliance is beneficial for both criminal groups. Los Zetas transports the drugs to and within Europe while ‘Ndrangheta guarantees secure distribution points,” the report stated.
In 2011, Italian police arrested 45 individuals linked to an unspecified Mexican cartel (most likely Los Zetas). In addition to drug trafficking, Los Zetas are involved in human trafficking between Europe and Mexico.
The FARC is responsible for many of the drugs that are transported to West Africa and then to Europe, Rangel Suárez said.
“The FARC is the biggest cocaine smuggler in the world,” he added. “In Colombia, more than half of the drugs produced and exported to other countries are marketed by the FARC.”
Three other Colombian organized crime groups – the Popular Revolutionary Anti-Subversive Army of Colombia (ERPAC), Los Urabeños and Los Rastrojos – also transport drugs to West Africa and on to Europe.
"Drugs from South Africa are moving via Mozambique and Kenya to the Far East," South Africa's representative on the UN International Narcotics Control Board, Dr Lochan Naidoo, said yesterday.
"For example, it would cost about R50 to be able to get 1g of methamphetamine (tik) in Cape Town. That same 1g would sell for about $1000 (about R10800) in the streets of Japan so it would encourage people to be become drug mules for small packages."
The board's annual report revealed that, while South African police have successfully dismantled many tik laboratories, amphetamine-type stimulants continue to be illicitly manufactured in the country and exported to Asia and possibly Australia.
Within South Africa, the abuse of tik, methcathinone (or cat) and heroin has increased since 2012.
Said Naidoo: "Seizure data for the period 2010/2012 suggests that heroin originating in Afghanistan is tracked, using dhows and to a lesser extent container shipments, from Iran and Pakistan towards the sea borders of Kenya and the United Republic of Tanzania, for further transportation by road to South Africa."
According to the report, international drug traffickers are testing the Port of Ngqura and Durban's harbour as possible entry points for smuggling drugs into Southern Africa.
"Durban has been named for the first time in the report. That is why it is important that the report was launched in this city. There is a great concern about southeast Africa becoming the next South America," Naidoo said.
The report also criticised the "misguided" legalisation of cannabis in Uruguay and Colorado and Washington in the US, with Naidoo disputing marijuana's medicinal properties.
The report stated that promoting "alternative drug regimes" would lead to much greater use of such drugs and higher levels of addiction. Misguided may be better applied to the 50 year war on drugs.
Sex Pays For Student Habit
According to information from Durban University of Technology's student services unit, health workers, protection services and residence supervisors, 15% of the 4500 students living in the Durban residences are using drugs.
University spokesman Alan Khan said 2% of female students become prostitutes and 10% have relationships with "sugar daddies" to sustain their drug habit.
"A significant number of male students indulge in drug and alcohol abuse, though more female students indulge in alcohol than males," he said.
And more female students have been caught on campus with drugs, he added.
Besides the more direct areal route, two maritime routes serve as the primary trafficking corridors. One route stops in the Caribbean islands and along the coast of Venezuela– a country gripped by a surge in criminal violence. The continuing discord between President Maduro and the US government prevents trans-governmental cooperation efforts to crackdown on the route. By contrast, over the last decade, Colombia, Peru, Central America, and Mexico, have received tens of billions of dollars in US counter-narcotics assistance.
Departing from Venezuela and the Caribbean – especially the European territories of Martinique and the Dutch Antilles – small jets, speedboats and fishing vessels carry the product to European cities. Direct flights and reduced import barriers facilitate the shipment of cocaine in these island nations belonging to France and Netherlands respectively. Their territorial status gives them greater access to the European financial system, making them good centres to hold and launder money from illicit transactions. The presence of traffickers in these small island nations has caused crime to soar and has undermined political integrity. A whopping 75% of all crime in the Dutch Antilles is drug-related. The situation appears reminiscent of the rising tide of trafficking throughout once peaceful Central American countries.
However, Fedotov did make an interesting point about the emerging cocaine market in (mainly Western) Africa. “In Africa, [cocaine] consumption appears to be growing,” he announced, before asserting – worryingly – that this noted increase in “drug trade and organised crime is fuelling economic and political instability in Africa”.
The heavy policing on traditional cocaine routes from South America has caused the smugglers to pivot and instead use countries like Ghana and Nigeria to get their product through to European customers.
Adeolu Ogunrombi is currently the Project Coordinator of Youth RISE Nigeria and West African Countries, an initiative which focuses on advocacy, capacity building and research on drug policy reform with a special focus on young people. He has an extensive background in public health and human rights practices.
He has been at the forefront of the debate on drug policy reform in Africa. He has authored and presented scientific papers in many international conferences on issues bordering on HIV/AIDS, drug policy, harm reduction and young people. He was nominated among the 100 global Youth Leaders by Women Deliver in 2010.
Interview with Adeolu Ogunrombi from the West African Commission On Drugs
So, Adeolu. Where does all this cocaine come from?
Adeolu Ogunrombi: The cocaine comes from Latin America, over the Atlantic and through West Africa towards its intended customers in Europe.
Okay. And is this really a new smuggling route?
The West African route has been exploited for a long time, but what we've witnessed in the last decade is an increase in the volume of the drug passing through the region as transnational drug cartels collaborate with local criminal and smuggling networks, corrupt officials and terrorists to transport their goods to Europe and North America. The traditional routes are being policed more heavily, so the traffickers find alternatives.
Is this having any knock-on effect on the use of cocaine in the area?
Yes, the consumption of cocaine and other hard drugs in the area is increasing. This affects most of the countries within the region, from Mali to Cape Verde,Nigeriato Sierra-Leone and Ghana toGuinea-Bissau. The 2013 World Drug Report showed Nigeria topping the list of hard drug consumers in Africa, with a very high level of cocaine use.
And that increase is definitely because of the trafficking? You're saying that there are "spill-over" markets?
Yes. As the drugs are trafficked through the countries, some of the product inevitably finds its way into the local supply. According to the UNODC, about 30 percent of trafficked drugs are consumed locally. Because of the increase in availability, the drugs are becoming more affordable and accessible. For example, a hit of crack cocaine is about $2 or $3 – a price much more suited to the area.
This has created all sorts of problems, including an increase in the number of people who are addicted and the number of injecting drug users. Young people are increasingly being affected, too.
If you’ve got people injecting drugs, you’re going to have a problem with the spread of HIV and AIDS through dirty needles. Do you feel that West Africa has the facilities to deal with any increase in addicts caused by these new trafficking routes?
That’s a big challenge at the moment, because the infrastructure isn't there and harm reduction services are next to non-existent. Law enforcement within the region still embraces a punitive approach. There was a recent case in Ghana, which was also reported in the print media, of a young man who was caught smoking marijuana. Police shot him dead during their efforts to arrest him.
Who's doing the trafficking?
I can’t really give you a list of all the people involved, but we've had reported cases of people from Colombia, Bolivia and Brazil. Cartels from these countries then meet local contacts in the West African countries who know the area.
Of course. You can look at the situation in Latin America as guidance; everyone is fighting for control of the region, and competing for powerful positions because of the huge amount of money they get from the trade. Such a situation may arise in West Africa as well if the necessary measures aren't put in place. Bear in mind, too, that the value of the cocaine passing through the region is far higher than the national budgets of some of the transit countries themselves.
Do you, like Yury Fedotov, think organisations such as yours need more funding?
Definitely. But it’s not just that. While many people allude to the growing challenge of drug trafficking and consumption within the region, it is yet to be one of the main agendas of many governments and institutions within West Africa. Not many people know about the gravity of the situation; how it is undermining security, governance and development as a whole – no one is talking about it.
So you need money to raise awareness?
Yes, and the right approach to drug control in general. At the moment we stick with the traditional tactic, the indicators of which are the number of arrests, the number of drug seizures, etc. Whereas our progress should be measured by the number of people in need of drug treatment who are able to access it without fear of arrest or coercion; the number of new cases of drug-related HIV being averted – things to do with health rather than crime.
So it’s not the drugs that are the main concern, it's the laws that are triggering worse problems?
I'd say so, yes. The laws themselves are what are causing problems all over the world. When you’re driving the drug user population underground by making their habit illegal and putting the trade completely in the hands of criminal groups, the social harms produced are much greater than the harms of the drugs themselves.
Despite the world’s gaze being fixed on West Africa due to the Malian conflict, the destruction of that part of the world by the increased flow of narcotics through the area is still not widely known. It’s not hard to understand why an area of ungovernable desert and underfunded governments is a fine breeding ground for cartels to operate. Couple that with the endemic poverty of countries such as Mali and Burkina Faso (where around half of the population live on less than $1.25 per day) and the supply of drug runners who will work for little remuneration is endless.
In the last ten years trafficking in the area has boomed. 13% of the world’s cocaine, with a street value of $15-$20 billion, now travels through the region - roughly the same as the entire GDP of Mali or Guinea and twice that of Mauritania, some of the worst affected areas. Naturally, new gangs have formed from Guinea-Bisseau and Guinea right through to the north of the continent; to protect supply lines to the lucrative European market. As with all gangs, tales of organised brutality in the region – one all to familiar with violence – are beginning to surface. As with all drugs gangs, they target the vulnerable young.
For years, West African cocaine traffickers have worked as mules for Latin American drug cartels seeking to smuggle their powder to Europe. But now the mules are going independent — and muscling their former bosses out of some of the world’s most in-demand drug turf.
According to a report released this week by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, West African drug smugglers are playing a more direct role in trafficking the $1.25 billion worth of cocaine moving through the region every year. The West African cartels are now shipping cocaine by sea, a safer alternative for traffickers than high-risk smuggling on commercial planes, which can more easily be interdicted by police.
The African cartels are also cooking meth. According to the report, there’s now evidence of large-scale methamphetamine production in Nigeria, along with trafficking in the region growing rapidly since 2009. Ephedrine, an organic compound used in decongestants and a commonly-used precursor for meth, is loosely regulated in West Africa and hard to track.
The United Nations says the rate of consumption of illegal drugs in Africa is on the rise. Africa in terms of hard drugs has never been a continent for consumption, however that situation is rapidly changing. According to UN statistics 37,000 people in Africa die annually from diseases associated with the consumption of illegal drugs. The UN estimates there are 28 million drug users in Africa,there are an estimated 1.5 million of coke users in West Africa alone, the figure for the United States and Canada is 32 million and to make matters worse the
region lacks drug-treatment centres.
More African youths are becoming addicted to hard drugs, while West Africa gradually transforms from a drug transportation region, to a drug consuming region and finally a drug producing one. According to the Washington Post, the transit route fulfills a cocaine market in Europe that has grown four fold in the past few years and reaches an amount almost equal to the United States.
A growing amount of the drugs coming from Colombia, Venezuela and Brazil into West Africa are being consumed locally. This is new, though not surprising: low prices and high supply of cocaine, particularly around the main entry points in Guinea-Bissau and Guinea-Conakry cause havoc among a youth, already so distraught by so many problems. Its now certain that drug addiction is coming to Africa in a massaive wave.
European and U.S consumer markets are providing the demand for this trade. In the most recent British crime survey it has been revealed that cocaine use had more than trebled among consumers. Up from 1.3% to 4.2% of the 16-24 demographic group were users during the period 2011/12. However, among consumers there is little responsibility for the effects of their consumption.
The majority of consumers fall into two broad categories. Firstly, there are the apathetic and uninformed who either care little or know nothing of the harms of the trade. Secondly, and increasing in size, there are those who avert the blame; choosing instead to point to the criminal status of cocaine and shirking responsibility to policy makers. They miss the point. Even if it were decriminalised in Europe, it would still be illegal in the more socially conservative African west. It would still cause just as much harm.
The current problems only tell half the story. The reason the focus of this piece is West Africa and not Latin America is poverty. The impoverished nature of West Africa means that governments have few resources to fight what are increasingly well-armed and well-funded drugs gangs. Much of South and Central America is mired in conflict arising from the cocaine trade. The huge demand for Drugs in Europe and the U.S is creating a legion of home grown crack addicts and dire social problems.
However, the relatively wealthier nature of the states means that living standards are not as adversely affected despite the all too frequent incidences of brutality. Guinea and Guinea-Bissau which are the main port countries for cocaine arriving from South America are among the world’s poorest countries. Money being spent combating drugs gangs is money desperately needed for infrastructural and education spending.
The situation in Mali is dire. Fuelled by demand from Europe, cocaine trafficking is rampant in the Saharan state. Its ungovernable desert borders to the north make for safe routes for cartels to access North Africa and beyond. Its southern-based central government lacks the capability to mount any sort of response to the vast organised criminal gangs. Factor into this already bleak picture the current conflict that is creating uncertainty and harming investment opportunities, and living standards are plummeting.
The notion that we ought not to buy things produced or transported by dubious means has been around for centuries. From the boycotts of sugar picked by slaves in the late eighteenth century, to more modern practices such as the refusal to buy products made in sweatshops, or those that have been tested on animals. People have often been the standard bearers for conscientious consumption. There is however one outlier. Worryingly, many who wouldn't dream of lining their coats with fur all to keenly line their nostrils with cocaine, one of the most damaging industries. One that is destabilising a part of the world which can ill-afford it.
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Mexico's Drug War: Balkanization Leads to Regional Challenges
This Security Weekly assesses the most significant cartel-related developments of the first quarter of 2013 and provides updated profiles of Mexico's powerful criminal cartels, as well as a forecast for the rest of this year. It's the executive summary of a more detailed report available to clients of our Mexico Security Monitor service.
"Mexico's Drug War: Balkanization Leads to Regional Challenges is republished with permission of Stratfor."
By Tristan Reed
Balkanization of Cartels
Since the late 1980s demise of the Guadalajara cartel, which controlled drug trade routes into the United States through most of Mexico, Mexican cartels have followed a trend of fracturing into more geographically compact, regional crime networks. This trend, which we are referring to as "Balkanization," has continued for more than two decades and has impacted all of the major cartel groups in Mexico. Indeed the Sinaloa Federation lost significant assets when the organizations run by Beltran Leyva and Ignacio Coronel split away from it. Los Zetas, currently the other most powerful cartel in Mexico, was formed when it split off from the Gulf cartel in 2010. Still these two organizations have fought hard to resist the trend of fracturing and have been able to grow despite being affected by it. This led to the polarized dynamic observed in 2011 when these two dominant Mexican cartels effectively split Mexican organized crime in two, with one group composed of Los Zetas and its allies and the other composed of the Sinaloa Federation and its allies.
This trend toward polarization has since been reversed, however, as Balkanization has led to rising regional challenges to both organizations since 2012. Most notable among these is the split between the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion and the Sinaloa Federation. The Sinaloa Federation continues to struggle with regional crime groups for control in western Chihuahua state, northern Sinaloa state, Jalisco state and northern Sonora state. Similarly, Los Zetas saw several regional challengers in 2012. Two regional groups saw sharp increases in their operational capabilities during 2012 and through the first quarter of 2013. These were the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion and the Knights Templar.
The Beltran Leyva Organizationprovides another example of the regionalization of Mexican organized crime. It has become an umbrella of autonomous, and in some cases conflicting, groups. Many of the groups that emerged from it control specific geographic areas and fight among each other largely in isolation from the conflict between Los Zetas and the Sinaloa Federation. Many of these successor crime groups, such as the Independent Cartel of Acapulco, Los Rojos and Guerreros Unidos are currently fighting for their own geographic niches. As its name implies, the Independent Cartel of Acapulco mostly acts in Acapulco, while Los Rojos and Guerreros Unidos mostly act in Morelos state.
The ongoing fragmentation of Mexican cartels is not likely to reverse, at least not in the next few years. Despite this, while Los Zetas and the Sinaloa Federation continue to face new rivals and suffer from internal splintering, their resources are not necessarily declining. Neither criminal organization faces implosion or a substantial decline as a transnational criminal organization as a result of rising regional challengers. Both Los Zetas and the Sinaloa Federation continue to extend their drug trafficking operations on a transnational level, increasing both their influence and profits. Still, they will continue to face the new reality, in which they are forced to work with -- or fight -- regional groups.
In Hidalgo state, a former Zetas stronghold, the Knights Templar have made significant inroads, although violence has not risen to the level of that in the previously mentioned states. Also, the turf war within Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas states between the Gulf cartel and Los Zetas that began when Los Zetas split from the Gulf cartel in 2010 continues.
In light of Ivan "El Taliban" Velazquez Caballero's dissent from Los Zetas and the death of former leader Heriberto "El Lazca"Lazcano Lazcano, Zetas leader Miguel "Z-40" Trevino Morales could face organizational integrity issues during 2013. Signs of such issues appeared in Cancun during the first quarter when some members of Los Zetas reportedly broke from the group and adopted the Gulf cartel name. Besides possible minor dissent, a seemingly new rival has emerged in Tabasco state to counter Los Zetas. A group called Pueblo Unido Contra la Delincuencia, Spanish for "People United Against Crime," carried out a series of executions in Tabasco state throughout the first quarter, but the group's origins and significance remain unclear. No indicators of substantial splintering among Los Zetas have emerged since the Velazquez split.
Regional organizations continued to challenge the Sinaloa Federation on its turf in western Chihuahua state, northern Sinaloa state and Jalisco state through the first quarter. Intercartel violence in mountainous western Chihuahua continues as the Sinaloa Federation fights La Linea for control of the region's smuggling routes and drug cultivation areas. Los Mazatlecos so far has maintained its control over northern Sinaloa cities, such as Los Mochis and Guasave. It also has continued violent incursions into southern areas of Sinaloa state, such as Mazatlan, Concordia and El Rosario with its ally Los Zetas.
At the beginning of 2012, Gulf cartel territory appeared likely to be absorbed by larger cartels -- essentially signaling the end of the Gulf cartel. Support from the Sinaloa Federation and the Knights Templar combined with fractures within Los Zetas allowed a Gulf cartel resurgence, leading to a renewed Gulf assault on Los Zetas in the northeastern states of Mexico. The resurgence ended with a series of notable arrests during the last quarter of 2012, such as that of former top leader Jorge Eduardo "El Coss" Costilla Sanchez. The arrests triggered additional Gulf cartel infighting, which peaked in March 2013.
The escalated infighting in the Gulf cartel, particularly in Reynosa, Tamaulipas state, highlighted the new state of the Gulf cartel: Instead of operating as a cohesive criminal network, the Gulf cartel now consists of factions linked by history and the Gulf label. The infighting began in 2010 after the death of former top Gulf cartel leader Antonio Ezequiel "Tony Tormenta" Cardenas Guillen. The death of Cardenas Guillen split the Gulf cartel into two main factions, Los Rojos and Los Metros. By the first quarter of 2013, infighting had broken out between Los Metros leaders, such as Mario "Pelon" Ramirez Trevino, David "Metro 4" Salgado and Miguel "El Gringo" Villarreal. This suggests the Gulf cartel is further fractured and no longer consists of just two opposing sides. The Gulf cartel may begin acting as a cohesive network during the second quarter after the escalated infighting in March, though this cannot be definitely predicted.
From March 10 to March 19, Reynosa became the focal point for Gulf cartel infighting as Ramirez Trevino escalated his conflict against Villarreal. Ramirez Trevino reportedly expelled Villarreal's faction and its allies from the Reynosa plaza and killed Salgado. This could mean Ramirez Trevino has consolidated control over other Gulf cartel factions. If true, this would represent a substantial shift in organized criminal operations in northeastern Tamaulipas state, where the Sinaloa Federation and the Knights Templar smuggle drugs, people and other illicit commodities through the border towns of Reynosa and Matamoros while Los Zetas maintain a constant interest in fighting for control of the stated cities.
As mentioned during the last annual update, Gulf cartel factions are increasingly reliant on Sinaloa Federation and Knights Templar support to defend the remaining Gulf cartel territory in Tamaulipas state from Los Zetas. This certainly remains true after the first quarter, although the recent shift from Gulf cartel infighting may signal a shift in inter cartel dynamics. Since the Gulf cartel in reality consists of separate factions, there is likely a separate relationship between each Gulf cartel faction and the larger criminal organizations reportedly in alignment with them. With Ramirez Trevino now in charge of Reynosa, a city valued by both the Sinaloa Federation and the Knights Templar, his existing relationship with the two organizations will likely influence their strategies for maintaining their interests in Gulf cartel-controlled areas. Additionally, it is not yet clear whether Ramirez Trevino suffered any substantial losses during the March fighting in Reynosa. If he did lose some capabilities fighting Los Zetas in Tamaulipas state, or if he has challenged a faction loyal to either the Sinaloa Federation or the Knights Templar, either organization would likely have to use its own gunmen for defending Gulf cartel-controlled areas or mounting their own incursions into Zetas territory, particularly Nuevo Laredo.
Intercartel violence in the Gulf cartel-controlled city of Reynosa will likely diminish compared to the first quarter of 2013 if Ramirez Trevino has indeed won. This reduction in violence will continue only as long as Ramirez Trevino is able to hold his control over Reynosa. Influence from external organizations, such as Los Zetas, the Sinaloa Federation and the Knights Templar, could once again spark violence if Ramirez Trevino's efforts have harmed their trafficking operations through Reynosa or presented a new opportunity to seize control. What, if any, Gulf cartel infighting is ongoing is difficult to gauge.
Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion
The severing of the relationship between the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion and the Sinaloa Federation came to the forefront of conflicts in the Pacific states of Michoacan and Jalisco during the first quarter of 2013. The Sinaloa Federation relied on its alliance with the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion in defending the critical location of Guadalajara from Los Zetas and used the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion as an assault force into Los Zetas strongholds, such as Veracruz state.
Although evidence of the rift between the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion and the Sinaloa Federation began to appear in open-source reporting during the last half of 2012, the conflict between the two organizations only became clear when the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion went on the offensive in Jalisco state by attacking Sinaloa Federation allies Los Coroneles, the Knights Templar and the Gulf cartel.
With a now-fully independent Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion, the polarization of warring cartels in Mexico has effectively ended. In addition to the existing conflicts between the Sinaloa Federation and Los Zetas, the Sinaloa Federation must now focus on reclaiming an operational hold over Jalisco state from the now-rival Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion. The second quarter will continue to see a conflict between the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion and Sinaloa Federation-aligned groups in Jalisco state as well as neighboring states like Michoacan.
The Knights Templar experienced intensified conflict during the first quarter from their principal rival, Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion. In an effort to combat the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion, the Knights Templar have allied with other Sinaloa Federation-aligned groups, the Gulf cartel and Los Coroneles, referring to themselves as "Los Aliados" to fight the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion within Jalisco. Violence as a result of this alliance against the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion has been most notable in the Guadalajara metropolitan area as well as towns lying on highways 15 and 90, which connect to Guadalajara.
In addition to the Knights Templar offensive into Jalisco state, the group is currently defending its stronghold of Michoacan state. The Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion also has conducted violent assaults against the Knights Templar in Michoacan, particularly on routes leading from Jalisco state toward Apatzingan, Michoacan state. This assault has increased intercartel violence along the border of the two states as part of a tit-for-tat dynamic.
Citizens of Buenavista Tomatlan, Michoacan state, a municipality lying amid territory contested by the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion and the Knights Templar, have recently set up a community police force to counter Knights Templar operations in the municipality. As in some other areas of Mexico, this community police force is a volunteer force that assumed law enforcement responsibilities independent of the Mexican government. The community police, while established to thwart the Knights Templar, have created tension between the communities of Buenavista Tomatlan and the government. On March 8, the Mexican military detained approximately 34 members of the community police force that had been created in February in Buenavista Tomatlan.
The Buenavista Tomatlan arrests occurred after the community police took over the municipal police station March 4 and detained the municipal police chief, who the Mexican military later freed. Notably, the Mexican government claimed at least 30 of the detained community police belonged to the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion. If true, this suggests it has made territorial gains to the point of infiltrating the community police. However, there has been no confirmation on whether the accusations are true. Regardless, the community police force of Buenavista Tomatlan has placed its focus on stopping Knights Templar operations in the area, a focus that could only benefit the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion's war with its rivals.
Consumption is on the rise and narco-corruption now undermines the rule of law and legitimate economic growth necessary for development and stability. One of the most alarming trends that place Africa and Africans on the radar of policy makers, law enforcement, and researchers alike is the number of fronts on which the illicit drug trade is growing. Its geographic expansion beyond the relatively confined region of West Africa is now endangering East and Southern Africa.
The arrival of new drugs to the region--heroin and Amphetamine has been accompanied by the discovery of local manufacturing facilities to process them. The growing level of activity by Africans--who initially served as facilitators but now appear to be taking a more proactive role--raises concerns that a new generation of African DTOs is rising in the ranks.
Globalization,which is the integration of regional economies, societies, and cultures, is considered one of the most significant developments of the 20th century. In addition to multitude of cultural, political, economic, and technological benefits it brings to many fortunate countries, globalization has also brought with it opportunities for the weak,poor,and oppressed to participate in traditionally closed markets. Yet, while globalization has been lauded for fostering free trade and economic prosperity, its so-called dark-side has also created opportunities for criminals,businessmen,institutions and politicians to enrich and empower themselves by taking advantage of lucrative illicit markets, or by creating new ones. The forces of globalization and its causes and effects have been well documented and are largely accepted as having facilitated the expansion of licit as well as illicit markets to regions that otherwise would not have enjoyed significant economic activity.
Africa is the exemplar, whose geographic proximity between the source zone and final markets for many illicit goods has contributed to its exploitation by DTOs. The emergence of West Africa as a major transit point for Latin American cocaine en route to Europe has taken the international community by surprise. Europe and the United States, in particular, are concerned for many reasons.
A good example of narco corruption in Africa is Jackie Selebi, the former South African ambassador and permanent representative to the United Nations, former Director-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, former Chair of Justice crime prevention and security Cluster, winner of human rights award from the International Service for Human Rights and national commissioner of the South African Police Service, and former VP of Interpol,
Selebi was found guilty of corruption,fraud, racketeering and drug trafficking on 2 July 2010 and sentenced to 15 yrs imprisonment on 3 August 2010. However, he was released on medical parole having served just 229 days of his 15 year sentence. in July 2012. From Europe's perspective, it is now experiencing increasing levels of cocaine entering its borders from West Africa, at least partly as a result of highly effective counternarcotics strategies that have concentrated law-interdicting drugs on commercial airflights from the Caribbean to Europe (primarily the Netherlands Antilles to Amsterdam and Jamaica to London). This strategy has been so effective at disrupting major trafficking routes and deterring couriers that traffickers have been forced to identify new routes to enter Europe where law enforcement is less likely to detect their shipments. From its experience as both a transit zone and a final market for heroin, Europe is all too familiar with the public health and safety issues associated with addiction, crime, prostitution, and violence that typically accompany drug trade.
From the U.S perspective,it fears the existence of several anti-American terrorist groups operating in Africa coupled with drug revenues that could cultivate a crime-terrorist nexus, thus threatening its interests in yet another region. Furthermore, since the DTOs operating in West Africa are the same ones that traffic drugs into the United States, Americans view the proceeds of these Africa-based operations as bolstering the strength of those DTOs operating on its southern border with Mexico. All parties are concerned with the destabilizing impacts of the drug trade,including its potential to finance local insurgencies,expand into new illicit markets (such as arms), and its under mining effect on programs that improve governance, anti corruption,accountability, and raise public trust in government institutions.
Today these concerns are more relevant than ever, with new drugs, higher quantities, and an ever-increasing number of transit states now characterizing Africa's drug trade.
Despite regional and international counter-narcotics programs designed to interdict drugs and build the capacity of local law enforcement institutions to detect trafficking activity and prosecute the offenders, the continent appears to be growing in importance to DTOs. Whereas Africa's involvement in the global drug trade before the mid-2000s was generally limited to West African heroin distribution networks, the last several years has witnessed an unrelenting expansion of the drug trade throughout the continent. Cocaine, synthetics, and increasing amounts of heroin are now transiting Africa where some portion of it stays to satisfy the local market, while the remainder is moved to final destinations in Europe and North America.
Regrettably, the growth of transnational organized crime in Africa is not limited to the drug trade. Trafficking in humans, cigarettes, arms, natural resources (most notably diamond, timber, and minerals), oil, hazardous waste, and most recently, the manufacture and sale of fake pharmaceuticals, are all illicit trades that continue to thrive in Africa.
In case you think this is a wild exaggeration, take note of an article published by the London Sunday Telegraph. So much cocaine is being used in London that traces of the white powdered narcotic can be detected in the River Thames. Citing scientific research that it had commissioned, it said an estimated 2kg of cocaine, or 80 000 lines, spill into the river every day after passing through users’ bodies and sewage treatment plants.
It extrapolated that 150 000 lines of the illegal drug are snorted in the British capital every single day, or 15 times higher than the official figure given by the Home Office. Europeans belong to the largest consumers of illicit drugs, absorbing about one fifth of the global heroin, cocaine and cannabis supply, as well as one third of ecstasy production (UNODC World Drug report, 2008).
Former president of the lower house Pierferdinando Casini stated, ‘The value of this experiment is precisely zero.’ In response to concerns about the test’s reliability, the chief producer of Le Iene, Davide Parenti, had argued that the Drugswipe ‘is 100 % accurate. Amid parliamentary uproar over the shocking results of the secret drug test conducted by Le Iene.
The Privacy Authority blocked the transmission of the segment, contending that the data was collected in a covert and illegal manner, thereby invading the MPs’ privacy.
|Italian parliament Palace Flying High|
Italian politicians have a long history of drug misdemeanors.
In 2003 the former prime minister Emilio Colombo admitted that he had purchased cocaine after his drug dealer was arrested but said it was for "therapeutic purposes".
During a debate on Italy's drug law, former deputy prime minister Gianfranco Fini admitted having smoked a joint once while he was on holiday in Jamaica; Pierferdinando Casini also said he had tried the drug.
Italy's drug laws were relaxed after a 1993 referendum but were tightened again last year in a zero tolerance policy promoted by the former deputy prime minister,Gianfranco Fini. The new laws abolished the distinction between hard and soft drugs and made possession, as well as dealing, a criminal offence. Under the new laws, anyone found in possession of as little as two cannabis joints could, in theory, be prosecuted as a dealer.
According to the latest UN World Drug Report, a gram of the white powder fetched just £40 ($62) in Britain in 2010. In
Germany,it cost $87.Only in Portugal and the Netherlands is cocaine cheaper on the street than it is in Britain. Prices have been falling in Britain for years, even as they have increased elsewhere. Cocaine is now half as expensive as it was in 1998, even before accounting for inflation. Curiously, the trend has continued despite rising wholesale prices.
Since 2007 the price of a kilogram of cocaine at the border has increased from £30,000 to around £55,000.
A big reason for cheap retail prices, say police, is that dealers have discovered cutting agents which allow them to pad their products without losing custom. Cocaine is adulterated before it arrives in Britain, to around 65% purity, most commonly with levamisole, a drug used to treat worms in cattle. Local dealers then cut it with other chemicals such as benzocaine, a local anaesthetic which simulates the numbing effect that real cocaine has on the gums.
Dean Ames, a drugs specialist at LGC Forensics, a private forensic science company, says that the street-level cocaine he analyses has fallen from between 30%to 60% purity in 2007 to between 10% and 35% now. Around two-fifths of samples contain benzocaine.
Drug trafficking, the critical link between supply and demand, is fuelling a global criminal enterprise valued in the hundreds of billions of dollars that poses a growing challenge to stability and security. Drug traffickers and cartels are forming transnational networks, sourcing drugs on one continent, trafficking them across another and marketing them in a third.
In some countries and regions the value of the illicit drug trade far exceeds the size of the legitimate economy. Given the enormous amounts of money controlled by drug traffickers, they have the capacity to corrupt officials. In recent years we have seen several such cases in which ministers and heads of national law enforcement agencies have been implicated in drug-related corruption. We are also witnessing more and more acts of violence, conflicts and terrorist activities fuelled by drug trafficking and organised crime.
The transporting of narcotics via the west coast of Africa has proven to be the most secure way of getting drugs to customers in Europe. The so-called Atlantic route (South America – Portugal – Spain) is becoming steadily more difficult, so the drugs cartels have turned their attention to West Africa, which has a practically unguarded coastline and impoverished, weak and easy-to-bribe governments.
“The drugs trade, which has Europe as its primary destination, now chooses the African route. Especially the poor, open-to-bribery countries, but also the larger and more stable parts of Africa such as Nigeria and South Africa”, says Wil Pantsers, Director of the Mexican Studies Centre at the University of Groningen.
Every time a country somewhere in the world proudly presents figures showing the progress of the war against drugs trafficking, figures in another part of the world give precisely the opposite impression. The golden rule of supply and demand that defines the marketplace certainly applies to the drugs trade.
Forty tonnes (27 percent) of the cocaine consumed in Europe have passed through various West African countries: Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia,Sierra Leone, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau,Cape Verde,Senegal, Mali or Mauritania. The international airports on the other side of the continent serve as through-routes for heroin that is imported from Asia and sold on the streets of Amsterdam or London. That’s according to the annual report of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) of the United Nations.
The rapid growth is not only the consequence of the creativity and vast experience of the Latin American drugs cartels. The weakness of the states with which they do business, and the extreme poverty, makes this region an ideal place for their illegal practices.
Lack of Everything
Guinea-Bissau is a good example of an extremely violent state, where the drugs trade is flourishing at the highest levels of the land. Tom Blickman, from the Transnational Institute of Policy Studies in Amsterdam, points out the extreme weakness of the government: “In Guinea-Bissau there’s no means of keeping drugs trafficking under control. The police don’t have any cars. They don’t have any radios. They don’t have anything.”
|Guinea-Bissau Drug Rehab|
In Mexico, neither the huge army nor the police are in any position to bring an end to the drugs gangs. Since 2008, drug-related violence has so far cost the lives of more than sixty thousand dead and fifteen thousand missing. The drugs trade is even infiltrated by individuals at the highest levels of the police and politics.
Mexico is an important through-route to the north from Colombia, Peru and Bolivia, but at the same time the quantity of marijuana and poppies has increased enormously. What particularly strikes researchers is the spectacular growth in the production of synthetic drugs.
Mexico has developed into the crossroads for drug trafficking, and that is feeding destabilization in the region, says Luis Astorga from the Independent National University of Mexico. “This position that Central America has taken up in the cocaine route, is becoming increasingly important. Every success by Colombia or Mexico in the fight against drugs has immediate negative consequences in the Caribbean and Central America, where the governments are weaker.”
The fight against worldwide drugs trafficking is a major challenge for the international community, maybe even greater than the fight against international terrorism. Drugs’ trafficking brings democracies to their knees, and destabilizes not only countries, but whole regions.
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.
A gangster's paradise
In Bissau I met a former journalist who had been a correspondent for a Portuguese magazine, I ask him to show me where the local drug lords live. We meet at night, in front of my hotel and went for a ride through the darkness, where he felt safer than in bar.
“It all started when the fishermen found the drug in the sea…” he tells me while I drive “…a load of cocaine was dumped overboard, from a ship that was intercepted by the Senegalese coast guard, in 2005. The fishermen in Biombo found these packs and didn't even know what it was. Some of them used it to fertilize their crops, some to paint their bodies and others simply kept the packs in their house. In this country very few knew what cocaine was.” He shakes his head, and smiles bitterly. We pass in front of the UN Building, taking a dark deserted road.
“See this? That’s where Augusto Bliri lives”. My journalist friend points to a huge mansion with a yellow Hummer parked in the courtyard. “That’s the traffickers neighbourhood. This other house is where Bubo Na Tchuto used to live before he fled to Gambia… I guess the house is empty now… Look, over there, that was Pablo Camacho’s hideout”.
I keep on driving through this kind of Hollywood where the actors are drug lords and show biz is replaced by cocaine trade. Each mansion is guarded by armed security.
One is the local gangster, one the Colombian trafficker, and one, Na Tchuto, a former Rear Admiral for Guinea Bissau’s navy. Neighbours, and business partners. Augusto Bliri is a young but talented drug lord who is legend in Bissau. He’s the one who started the cocaine business in the country. He lived in Germany for several years, so when the fishermen found the mysterious packs with the white powder, he instantly knew what to do: he bought some kilos for almost nothing and converted them into hundreds of thousand of Euros. He spends most days driving around in his yellow Hummer and he often visit the Samaritana, a small bar in front of a parking lot in the centre of Bissau.
In this place, traffickers and dealers share drinks while watching children cleaning their SUVs for few coins. Bliri’s gang is the strongest in town, that everyone either respects or fears, depending on the point of view. A few months ago one of Bliri’s lieutenants killed a Spanish trafficker in Bissau who had tried to steal some cocaine. The police arrested and imprisoned the suspected killer but after three days he was freed. No trial, no evidence. Nothing.
The same happened when Bliri was busted and convicted in 2006. The Police found firearms in his Hummer and a large amount of money. He was sentenced to four years but his lawyer, Carlos Lopes Correira, convinced the judge to let him go; his client was sick, Correira argued, and the basement where he was imprisoned was unhealthy.
I ask Lucinda Barbosa, chief of the Bissau police, if Bliri’s gang is in some way connected to the Lebanese network. “Of course they are. The Lebanese are too smart, and would never put their own hands in the fire, so they protect these gangs because they need someone to do ‘the job’. These kids are untouchable, and they know it. They resolve any problem with bribes so they don’t fear anyone.”
I managed to infiltrate into Bliri’s gang, but in two months I never met him personally. The Interpol knew I wanted to infiltrate, so they provided me with valuable advice and information.
I approached one of Biliris’ lieutenants (I will call him Omar, an alias that I promised to use to protect his identity) the third day I was in Bissau. He was smoking marijuana with his friends at the Samaritana. After an improvised conversation about cars and music I suddenly ask him to meet me, this same night.
“I’ll be waiting for you at the Kilimanjaro, at 11 o’clock,” Omar replied. The Kilimanjaro is an isolated, dark patio with a grill that the owner calls “a restaurant.” While approaching the table where Omar was waiting, I realized there was nobody else in this place. Even the owner was gone. But I already was there, with him.
“Have a sit and let’s talk… what can I do for you?” he said shaking my hand. I was a bit nervous, but I sensed he was tense, too. My strategy was to be straight and tell him exactly who I was and what I was looking for. “I know who you are and what your business is but, frankly, I don’t care. I have no intention to denounce you, nor to give you troubles. I just need you to show me how the whole thing works. I'm a photographer and I'm making a book on cocaine. But don’t worry; nobody will know your name nor see your face. I promise. Would you help me?”
That’s exactly what I told him, word by word. I waited for few seconds, until he replied. “Holy crap… I don’t know if you’re crazy or brave, but what you are asking for is really risky. I have great respect for you, brother, but you’re a little mad! Do you know you could have been killed if you would have met someone else rather than me?” His answer kind of surprised me, but reading between the lines I understood this was a sceptical “yes”. After the conversation we had a drink. He took my phone number, and then we both left.
In the weeks that followed I met him almost every day. He tested me several times, gradually opening up to reveal his world. He introduced me to his people, inviting me three times in one week to share dinner with his gang. I’m still not sure if this was a way to have his friends pass judgment on me or if it was, in some way, a spontaneous and sincere attempt at socializing.
In any case I was gaining credibility and Omar’s respect, and after two weeks I felt we really trusted each other. It was carnival in Bissau, and I was invited for a beer at the cabañas of barrio Bra, a place where no stranger would go alone. Everyone was drinking and dancing to the loud beats of Bissau’s pop music. Omar was a little high and started to tell me about his problems with his girl. I think we had become, somehow, friends after this night.
The cliché of drug trafficker that we all have in mind is something that we inherited from Miami Vice or similar movies. In Bissau, most of the gangsters are still very naïve as the drug trade’s dynamics are still new to them. They are mostly kids who never had a single chance, most of them have been living in poverty their whole life, and cocaine trafficking is an unexpected, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, the only real chance to achieve something and leave their slums.
Augusto Bliri is the local hero because he was the first who took this chance. He’s smarter than every other local drug lord in Bissau and he’s extremely dangerous, always carrying a gun on his person and an Uzzi in his Hummer. After some weeks, I ask Omar if Bilri knows that I exist. I already know the answer, but I need to test Omar. He laughs at the question, “If Augusto wouldn't know about you, we wouldn't be here now. I gave him my word that you’re reliable. If you do something wrong I will probably get killed, but in this case I wouldn't be the only who would die. You know, we have our rules here. This is Africa, brother”.
One of the things I liked most about Omar was that he was honest, direct and clear. And he was always on time, a rare quality in Bissau. We gather for another party in an apparently abandoned lot where the gang set up a wall screen with a DVD projector playing one of 50Cent’s concerts. The grills are crowded with dozens of camaraos tigre, a jumbo shrimp the size of a lobster. Four buckets are filled with beers and a group of girls, the gang’s groupies, dance and shake just like Beyonce taught. The men keep on drinking.
None of them speaks English, but to celebrate they salute 50Cents with a loud “Go, mother fucker!” followed by a big laugh. I’m pretty sure they have no idea what it means, but it’s what the singer says. “One of these days I’ll show you what happens to those who break the rules” says Omar, holding my arm. He had a strange smile on his face and his eyes were shining when he pointed at mine. I was shivering and asked what he meant to say. “Ah-ah-ah!” He erupted into a loud laugh “You don’t have to worry, nothing is going happened to you... unless you break some rule…” He keeps laughing, my face paralysed and my eyes clearly betraying my emotions. “No one is going to die, don’t worry… we don’t kill people that often here… we’re cool. I'm just going to show you something, but not tonight.”
Omar is a good guy, but sometimes he’s a little scary. When I leave the party I keep wondering what he was talking about; but it was a few days later before I had an answer. I was in my room, ready to sleep, when my phone rings, a few minutes before midnight. You should come now. There’s something I promised to show you... remember? Go to the airport, in the parking lot.You will find my friends there in half an hour… and don’t forget your camera!”
I don’t know what to do, I’m freaking scared and I don’t know what I'm about to see. I’m not sure accepting the invitation is wise but it could be maybe dangerous not to. A waltz of doubts and theories starts to dance in my mind, but after half an hour I'm at the airport.
When I arrive, nobody is there. I lock my car, wait for a few minutes, and then a four-wheel-drive arrives. They approach my car and, from the window, a guy tells me to jump on the front seat. Omar is not in the car but I recognize the guy who drives. I don’t know his name and I never talked with him before, but he’s always around at the parties. When I get in the car I see there are three other guys in the back seat. The one in the middle is blindfolded with the two guys at his sides holding a rifle each. One of them wears a SWAT hood, holding a pistol against the hostage.
That’s way too much for me; I want to leave. But I can’t. I wish I was in a movie and I feel ridiculous with my cameras. We drive toward Quinhamel, a little village 30 minutes from Bissau, when the car suddenly takes a secondary road, surrounded by cashew trees. Nobody in the car say a single word. I smoke two cigarettes. In a few minutes the car finally stops. The three guys get off, with their hostage.
“If you want to take pictures, do it. Just make sure not to take my face… I’ll check your camera later”. The driver seemed to be extremely relaxed.
I'm praying they won’t kill him, and I stay in the car. I nervously start to photograph, through the windshield, while outside the gangsters point their rifles at the hostage. They speak Creole, so I don’t understand a single word, but it was clear they were threatening this poor guy with death, asking questions that he never answered. He was so scared he didn’t even cry.
While two of the guys were questioning the hostage, the driver disappeared under a tree. He was comfortably smoking a cigarette. I get out of the car, with caution. I shoot two or three pictures before they force the hostage on his knee. They point a gun to his head and after more threats they kick him to the ground. The man is shaking. The driver suddenly says we must go, so we get into the car. The hostage is left in the middle of nowhere, at 2 in the morning and far from Bissau. But at least he’s alive.
“You knew we wouldn't have killed him, right? This guy talked too much … he should pay more attention. The next time he could have serious troubles…”
|Tagme Na Wai|
At six in the morning my friend and informant Vladimir, a reliable security man who works at the hotel, knocked on my door. He was frightened, and told me that the president had just been killed. When I asked him how he knew, he simply shook his head. I instantly left my room and went to the President’s house. Soldiers there were shooting in the air, to keep a little crowd of people away from the house.A bunch of soldiers with machine guns and bazookas surrounded the block.
The president’s armoured Hummer was still parked in front of the house, the tires flat and its bulletproof windows shattered. The police cars from his escort were destroyed. A rocket shot from a bazooka had penetrated four walls, ending up in the president’s living room. Joao Bernardo Vieira was dead, after ruling Guinea Bissau for nearly a quarter of a century.
After a few hours waiting in front of the house I understand I wouldn't have been allowed any access this day. A soldier came toward me and seized my camera to check if I had taken any pictures. Fortunately I had not, and he gave me the camera back. It was time to leave.
In the last few years Guinea Bissau had become a major hub for cocaine trafficking. The drug is shipped from Venezuela,Colombia and Brazilto West Africa en route to its final destination in Europe. Were these assassinations linked to drug trafficking?
The whole tale was surrealistic and I didn't quite understand what “taking his powers away” meant.
A confidential source close to the Interpol, who spoke in condition of anonymity, tells me that a private jet arrived in Bissau on Thursday, February 26, three days before the assassination of army chief Tagme Na Wai.
The plane landed and took off a few hours later from but strangely there is no record of such aircraft at the airport’s flight traffic office. This same day 200 kilos of cocaine disappeared from the Navy’s storage; some soldiers known to be loyal to President Joao Bernardo Vieira were spotted loading the flight, by the hangar where the plane was parked.
TheDEA and the Spanish police confirm that it was July 12th when the Gulf stream N351SE proceeding from Venezuela jet landed in Bissau,loaded with 500 kilos of cocaine. The Guinean police immediately surrounded the jet and arrested three Venezuelans; they were identified as Carmelo Vásquez Guerra, Carlos Luis Justiniano Núñez and Daniel Aguedelo Acevedo. Three policemen and two airtraffic-control agents were also arrested and charged with complicity with the traffickers.
Five days later, the Interpol, in cooperation with the DEA and FBI, inspected the flight with a drug-sniffing dog, confirming that cocaine had been transported on the jet. But the drug had vanished. Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the UNODC confirmed later that “hundred of boxes (containing cocaine) had been taken out from this jet” and opened an investigation on the case, with the FBI, Interpol and DEA.
The interesting issue in this case, which shows connections with the Mexican drug cartels, is that pilot Carmelo Vasquez Guerra was investigated by the Mexican Police (# PGR/SIEDO/UEIDCS/117/2006), for a DC-9 jet, N900SA, also proceeding from Venezuela and loaded with 5 tons of cocaine, that landed in Ciudad del Carmen, Campeche, Mexico, on April 10t, 2006. During this operation Miguel Vasquez Guerra, Carmelo’s brother, was arrested along with five other members of the jet’s crew. The crew is reputed to have been part of the Chapo Guzman criminal organization, the most powerful among the Mexican drug cartels.
|Chapo Guzman Captured April 2014|
But news about Carmelo kept coming, and kept getting worse. Gomez discovered that Mexico was not the only country to arrest Vasquez Guerra for the presumably major offence of flying container sized loads of cocaine, only to let him go. It's happened in three. Caught and released under mysterious and unexplained circumstances. in Mexico, in Guinea Bissau, and in Mali, home of Timbuktu.
Mexico's most wanted man,"El Chapo", or Shorty,heads the Sinaloa cartel, one of the biggest suppliers of Cocaine to the U.S. In 1993 was arrested in Mexico on homicide and drug charges. Escaped from federal prison in 2001, reportedly through the laundry, and quickly regained control of his drug trafficking organization, which he still controlled until his arrest in February 2014 .
The cartel’s tentacles stretch from New York City to Buenos Aires and almost every major city in between. It has successfully penetrated government and security forces wherever it operates. It often opts for the bribe over the bullet and alliances over fighting, but it is not above organizing its forces to overrun areas that it wants to control by force. Its central bond is blood: many of its members are related by blood or by marriage.
However, the cartel also often acts more like a federation than a tightly knit organization. The core of the group, the Beltran Leyva Organization, split from the rest in 2008. The Sinaloa Cartel has since created new alliances with former enemies in the Gulf Cartel and the Familia Michoacana. More shifts are to be expected as these alliances, even those formed by blood, are tenuous.
The state of Sinaloa has long been a centre 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.
Aviles was killed in a shootout with police in 1978. In the latter part of the 1970s, the various families branched into moving cocaine for Colombian and Central American traffickers, and shifted their operations to Guadalajara, in the state of Jalisco. Their leaders included Rafael Caro Quintero, Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo and Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo. Working closely with the Honduran Juan Ramon Matta Ballesteros, the men came into contact with Colombia's Medellin Cartel. Matta Ballesteros lived part-time in Colombia, where he operated as the main intermediary between Mexican and Colombian traffickers, particularly the Medellin and Guadalajara Cartels. They established the patterns that we see repeated today: movement of bulk shipments of cocaine via air plane and boat to Central America and Mexico, then by land routes into the United States. The boldness of the Mexican traffickers became evident when they murdered undercover Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent Enrique Camarena in 1985.
The death of Camarena was the beginning of the end of the Guadalajara Cartel. U.S. pressure forced Mexican authorities to act, and the leaders of the cartel fled. The remaining factions established bases in various parts of Mexico. The Arellano Felix brothers set up camp in Tijuana. The Carrillo Fuentes family moved to Juarez. Guzman and his partner, Hector Luis Palma Salazar, remained in the Sinaloa area.
The battles between these organizations began almost immediately. In November 1992, Guzman sent 40 gunmen to raid a Tijuana Cartel party in Puerto Vallarta, killing nine people. The Tijuana Cartel responded by trying to assassinate Guzman at the Guadalajara airport in 1993, killing a Mexican Cardinal instead. Guzman fled to Guatemala where he was arrested two weeks later. Palma Salazar was arrested in 1995.
The operations remained under the auspices of Joaquin's brother, Arturo Guzman Loera, Ramon Laija Serrano, and Hector, Alfredo and Arturo Beltran Leyva. Guzman maintained some control from prison, passing messages through his lawyers. He escaped in 2001, anticipating a decision to extradite him to the United States. He quickly resumed full control of the organization and assumed legendary status for constantly eluding capture.
In 2008 Mexican and Colombian traffickers laundered between $18 billion and $39 billion in proceeds from wholesale shipments to the U.S. Shorty, an alleged tunnels expert, is believed to have directed anywhere from a third to half of that during the past 8 years.
Business has boomed since Guzman's escape, especially following the incarceration and deaths of the Norte del Valle Cartel and Colombian paramilitary leaders, the two key suppliers of raw cocaine to the Sinaloa factions, and the incarceration and deaths of some of Guzman's Mexican rivals. Indeed, since his escape in 2001, 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).
|El Chapo Guzman|
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 called 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.
In recent months the Sinaloa has suffered a number of blows, with rival groups eating into their territory. The Zetas may be trying to take Guadalajara, while Sinaloa breakaway groups Gente Nueva and Los Ms are struggling for control of Durango.
During the operation carried out in Bissau the Interpol was able to seize seven satellite phones. These were decrypted, providing important information about this net of drug traffickers. I meet Lucinda Barbosa in her office, at the Judiciary Police offices, to ask some questions about the jet that was seized in November.
“I’m fighting a war, alone, against someone that I will never defeat,” she said. “Look at our offices…We have nothing here. The international community keeps promising aid but we are working with just one car and most of our agents have had no salary for four months. Of course they are corrupted, they need to feed their families! How can we possibly compete with drug traffickers?”
Then she locks the door, and picks up a folder from her desk. “I want to show you the situation we have here. If you want to investigate, you need a clear picture.” Lucinda opens the folders, and shows me a series of pictures taken with a mobile phone, by one of her informants, at the airport. They depict some soldiers, in uniform, unloading the private jet seized in November. Their faces aren't clearly visible, but a witness would be able to identify them.
“See? That’s how things work here. We had the flight, the pilot and the pictures. We also had the drugs but then it vanished… This would have been an easy trial in your country, but here nothing happened. The judge said the pictures don’t show any evidence and now that the drug has gone, the trial is dead. I’m really sick of that and I feel alone.”
From the day this plane was seized, the equilibrium between the Army and President changed and Bissau streets turned more violent. Bubo Na Tchuto, former Chief of the Navy, was arrested in November and fled to Gambia a few hours after. The president’s compound was assaulted in December in what appeared to be more a settling of scores than an attempted coup d’etat. At least 15 people died in drug-related crimes. The assassination of the General and the President were just the last chapter of a series.
President Nino Viera was aware of the power that his generals were gradually gaining and began to feel isolated. The jet issue of November 2008 added more problems and so he decided, investigators believe, to eliminate all those who were putting at risk his business. They say the goal was to strengthen his position at home – and to regain control over the drug trafficking trade. He needed to show the Latin American drug cartels that Guinea Bissau was still a convenient place for their business.
Vieira, who was known for the brutality of his methods, decided to use his skills. The first to fall was the navy chief, who fled because he knew that if he stayed he would be killed. With Army chief Batista Tagme Na Wai the president knew there would be no room for mercy or for mistakes – which is why Tagme was blown to smithereens.
A confidential informant is a person who provides information about criminal activity to law enforcement officers. The identities of these individuals are privileged in order to protect these individuals against retribution from those involved in crime.
On a sultry May afternoon in 2009, a car stopped at the end of a dirt road in the Liberian capital of Monrovia. Guards toting Kalashnikov rifles opened the gate to a large house, and the vehicle rolled into the driveway, setting off a chorus of barking by a group of mastiffs caged inside the compound. A muscular Nigerian named Chigbo Umeh stepped out of the car with two Colombians, both members of a drug cartel. The three were led into an elegantly decorated living room, where one of the most powerful figures in the Liberian government was waiting.
Their host was Fombah Teh Sirleaf, the stepson of Liberia’s president and director of the country’s National Security Agency. After Sirleaf had greeted the visitors, the men sat down to talk. Chigbo, dressed in jeans and a T-shirt that showed off his biceps, opened the conversation with a line that summed up his worldview. “In this life,” he said, smiling, “you have to make some money.” He then spelled out the cartel’s proposition: it would pay Sirleaf handsomely in exchange for his help in using Liberia as a transit hub for smuggling cocaine from Colombia into Europe. The traffickers would bring the cocaine into the west African country by air and sea; from there, they would move it to cities across western Europe, where the drug fetches as much as £34,000 per kilogramme.
|Fombah Teh Sirleaf|
|Monrovia, West Africa|
Reviewing the videos of the meeting, Gaye thought Chigbo’s face looked familiar. Later, when he saw a mug shot of the Nigerian, familiarity turned into recognition. “I know this guy,” Gaye said. “I arrested him in the 1990s.”
In the decades since President Richard Nixon formally declared a “war on drugs”in 1971, naming drug abuse “public enemy number one in the United States”, that war has evolved from a primarily domestic effort into an offensive that crisscrosses the globe. The DEA, formed in 1973, partnered with law enforcement agencies in Mexico and Colombia through the 80s and the 90s to help destroy marijuana plantations and cocaine labs in those countries. Under the Ronald Reagan administration, DEA agents trained with the military and entered South American nations such as Bolivia to aid local police fight drug cartels. The argument for these incursions was straightforward: a significant portion of the drug supply into the United States originated in or passed through these countries. Disrupting the supply near the source, before it crossed over into the US, was a desirable solution.
|DEA FAST Team|
As a result, several drug traffickers arrested in west Africa have been extradited to the United States and prosecuted under US law. The trend has created the distinct impression that the DEA is, increasingly, assuming the mantle of global cop. Appearing before the US Senate caucus on international narcotics control in 2012, the DEA’s deputy administrator, Thomas Harrigan, explained the rationale behind the agency’s extended reach. “The cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, chemical, money laundering and narcoterrorism threats in Africa have an impact on the US,” he said, “particularly since some of the drug trafficking organisations that smuggle illicit drugs in the US are the same as those using Africa as a base of operations for smuggling drugs in Europe and the Middle East.”
Sam Gaye, one of the three DEA agents who led the operation to nab Chigbo and his associates, has served as a foot soldier in this expanded war. He is a bald man with kindly eyes and a quiet demeanour, closer in image to a laid-back school principal than a cop. Despite that unassuming persona – or perhaps because of it – Gaye has successfully navigated danger time and again throughout his career, having run dozens of undercover operations for the DEA. He has often played the role of a drug dealer himself.
Born in Liberia, Gaye moved to the United States when he was 20, and went to college in Philadelphia before joining the DEA 11 years later, in 1987. In one of his first cases, he posed as a corrupt African diplomat and negotiated a fake drug deal with a Dominican drug trafficker and his aide, a Washington, DC cop, at a parking lot in DC. In 1989, upon instructions from his supervisor, Gaye had an informant show up near the White House and sell him a bag of cocaine. He learned later that the operation had been requested by White House officials who wanted the bag as a prop for a speech by President George HW Bush about the nation’s fight against drugs.
In the early 90s, Gaye was posted to Nigeria to track down fugitives and leads relating to cases the DEA was pursuing in the United States. A decade later, in 2005, after stints in Haiti and Puerto Rico, Gaye returned to Nigeria for a second posting to help the DEA fight an alarming trend. Once considered a backwater of the international drug trade, west Africa was quickly becoming a hub for cocaine smuggling. Colombian cartels had already established safe passage for their contraband through Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau and Guinea by bribing top government and military officials. In an increasingly interconnected world, these new trafficking routes were seen by the DEA to be as much of a threat to the United States as to Europe and Africa.
In the autumn of 2007, Gaye received a phone call at his office in Lagos. It was from Fombah Sirleaf, who had spent part of his childhood in Philadelphia and got to know Gaye when he was there. Sirleaf’s mother was at the time married to a distant cousin of Gaye, and Gaye often came over to their house to visit. Sirleaf, who was not yet a teenager, came to regard Gaye as a big brother. Through the decades since, their friendship had grown.
Sirleaf told Gaye he had something important to discuss with him that he couldn’t mention on the phone. Gaye flew to Monrovia for a meeting. Sirleaf said he had been approached by a cocaine trafficking organisation that wanted to use Liberia as a base. Gaye suggested that the DEA could help Sirleaf’s national security agency identify the traffickers and stop them. If Sirleaf simply turned them away, they were likely to target other officials in the Liberian government. Preventing traffickers from making inroads in Liberia wouldn't just be an act of goodwill by the DEA – the operation would further its goal of disrupting global drug trafficking networks.
After Sirleaf’s stepmother, President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, gave her approval, the DEA and the National Security Agency began planning a sting. Leading the effort, along with Gaye, were three agents from the DEA’s special operations division in Chantilly, Virginia: Lou Milione, a former movie actor who helped capture the international arms dealer Viktor Bout, and two of Milione’s younger colleagues, James Stouch and Ryan Rapaszky.
Supervisors at the DEA suggested that Gaye play the role of Sirleaf’s assistant, but Gaye felt uneasy because he had heard that a Nigerian was involved. “I had this intuition,” he told me. “Something told me it could be somebody that could recognise me because I have put Nigerians in jail.”
The special operations division ended up assigning the primary undercover role to a Greek-American named Spyros Enotiades, a flamboyant, talkative personality who had worked with the DEA on dozens of cases before. With his Mediterranean looks, Enotiades was a natural fit for the part he’d been given: that of Nabil Hage, an ostensible member of the Lebanese expatriate community, which controls several businesses in Liberia. Picking Enotiades for the job – rather than Gaye – proved to be a prescient choice. If Gaye had been the one to represent Sirleaf in negotiating with Chigbo, the sting would have ended in an instant.
Chigbo Umeh, from Nigeria, who had previously spent time in a US jail.
Chigbo got into the drug trade in the early 1990s, when he was a student in Lagos, studying business administration. The university shut down because of a strike just as he was getting ready to take his final exams. Frustrated by the delay in graduating, the enterprising Chigbo began helping Nigerian friends in the US to smuggle heroin from Afghanistan through Nigeria into New Jersey. He earned so much money that he forgot about returning to college when the strike ended.
But the good times were soon to be interrupted. In 1993, a DEA investigation in New Jersey led to federal indictments against Chigbo and his associates. Chigbo, who had yet to set foot in the United States, became a fugitive in the eyes of American law.
For about two years, the indictment did not change anything for Chigbo, who continued to traffic heroin through Lagos. Then, one day in 1995, before sunrise, one of Gaye’s informants led a team of Nigerian law enforcement officials – accompanied by Gaye – to an apartment in an affluent Lagos suburb where Chigbo had been living with roommates. He laughed as the team handcuffed him and marched him out of the building. He was not as nonchalant, however, when officials put him on a flight to the US, accompanied by Gaye. “Then he knew it was serious,” Gaye told me.
Chigbo served a six-year sentence in the US, and was sent back to Nigeria after his release in 2001. If the jail term was aimed at reform, it was a failure. When he returned home, Chigbo moved up in the trafficking world. Travelling between South America, Europe and Africa, he graduated from moving heroin in and out of Nigeria to brokering deals involving hundreds of kilograms of cocaine across continents. He taught himself Spanish and built connections with members of a Colombian cartel who found in him the ideal partner to help them carve out new trafficking routes through west Africa.
After that first meeting at Sirleaf’s house in the summer of 2009, Chigbo stayed in touch with Nabil Hage by phone. In October, he returned to Monrovia for another discussion with Sirleaf and Hage that was again secretly filmed by the DEA. He attempted to convince Sirleaf to allow the drugs to come into Liberia without a down payment, but Sirleaf and Hage would not budge. They were anxious not to arouse suspicion and did not want to lose authenticity in Chigbo’s eyes. “You need to pay $200,000 before anything can happen,” Sirleaf told Chigbo, who agreed to wire the money when he went back to Nigeria.
But the payment did not arrive as promised. Chigbo called Hage to explain that banking rules in Nigeria were causing a problem. He would have to break up the $200,000 into several smaller amounts and wire those individually into the Liberian account that Hage had provided. When he called Hage again a day or so later to say he was still having trouble, Gaye texted Chigbo from a Liberian mobile phone to make it look like a message from Sirleaf: “Chigbo, there have been too many delays. If I don’t get the money now, don’t call me any more. The deal is off.”
Chigbo panicked. Within minutes, he called Hage to say that he was willing to pay $100,000 in cash immediately if Hage could have a trusted person to pick up the money in Lagos. Hage agreed, and Gaye began planning the pick-up, recruiting a young woman he knew in Lagos to do the job. They arranged for the exchange to take place in the lobby of the Federal Palace Hotel in downtown Lagos. At the agreed hour later that day, Chigbo’s courier showed up at the hotel and handed Gaye’s contact a bundle of $100 bills wrapped in a newspaper.
Now that real money had changed hands, the deal was on. “Chigbo figured he got Sirleaf,” Gaye told me. “He had the credibility now.” Over the next few months, from late 2009 to early 2010, Chigbo made several trips to Monrovia, sometimes accompanied by the Colombians.
With Sirleaf’s blessing guaranteed, the DEA agents and their Liberian counterparts expected the traffickers to waste no time in having the cocaine flown into Liberia. But Chigbo wanted to revise the business plan. Bringing in a single tonne of cocaine at a time would not be cost-effective for the traffickers, he explained to Hage and Sirleaf. They would need to fly in bigger shipments to make it profitable enough for investors in Colombia, and that would require a larger aircraft. “He was very articulate in explaining the breakdown of the different costs, and why the initial proposal would need to get adjusted,” the DEA’s Ryan Rapazsky told me. “It was a drug dealer’s version of economics 101.”
|Team Konstantin Yaroshenko|
|Heading for NY|
The DEA thought pairing Chigbo’s partners with Yaroshenko would seem like a perfect solution to both sides. The informant put Yaroshenko in touch with Nabil Hage, who flew to Ukraine for meetings with the pilot, first in December 2009 and again in March 2010. During the conversations in March, at Kiev’s Intercontinental Hotel, Yaroshenko agreed to provide his services to Chigbo’s Colombian partners. He would fly cocaine from South America to Liberia, and then from Liberia to Ghana and other parts of Africa.
Despite soliciting Hage’s help in finding a larger aircraft and a pilot, the Colombians did not need Yaroshenko’s services to fly their first shipment from South America. By April 2010, they were finalising plans to send 2,000kg of cocaine to Monrovia by a Gulfstream business jet controlled by one of the traffickers, a Colombian named Marcel Acevedo Sarmiento. The shipment was expected to be flown in by mid-May. The traffickers still wanted to hire Yaroshenko, however, to fly a portion of the shipment from Liberia to Ghana. Chigbo would send it on from there to Europe, into the hands of bulk dealers in the Netherlands and elsewhere.
At the end of April, three of the DEA team – Stouch, Rapazsky and Milione – who had flown in and out of Liberia several times over the previous year, travelled to Monrovia once again for what they envisioned as the last phase of the sting. Chigbo was going to be there when the shipment arrived in May. Hage had invited Yaroshenko to be there as well. The plan was to seize the cocaine when it landed and swoop down on all the targets.
Then began the waiting game. Chigbo was stuck in the Netherlands because of the eruption of the Iceland volcano, which had forced thousands of flights to be cancelled from 14 April to early May. When he finally made it to Monrovia, there was still no word from the Colombians on when the shipment would arrive.
On 13 May, Hage arranged a meeting between Chigbo and Yaroshenko, who had landed in Monrovia days earlier. Hage wanted the two men to come to an agreement on the price to be paid to Yaroshenko for his first job – flying 700kg of the cocaine arriving in Monrovia to Accra, Ghana’s capital. When they met in a cosy hotel room, Hage asked Yaroshenko if he wanted a drink, and the Russian asked for tonic. “I’ll give you Coca-Cola. I know you like Coca-Cola,” Hage said with his usual aplomb. Chigbo and Yaroshenko exchanged greetings, sizing each other up. Hage told Yaroshenko that he had arranged for 200kg of that amount to be loaded on a Delta flight bound for the United States. “It’s going to be with diplomatic baggage,” Hage said, implying that the contraband would have safe passage through customs. Yaroshenko’s willingness to transport the cocaine, despite being made aware of Hage’s plan – as the investigators saw it – made the Russian potentially culpable of conspiring to violate US laws.
Hage stepped back, letting Chigbo and Yaroshenko haggle. The two discussed jobs within Africa, as well as transportation from South America to Liberia. At one point, when Chigbo remarked that Yaroshenko was asking for too much money, the Russian stood firm. “My friend, I know all prices from working from Latin America to here,” Yaroshenko said. “I know all prices.” The two agreed on a sum of $4.5m for flying a future shipment of five tonnes from Venezuela to Liberia. For the more immediate job of transporting to Ghana, Yaroshenko would be paid $1.2m.
Over the next few days, while they awaited word from Colombia, Chigbo and Hage continued to meet almost daily. Chigbo had a new business plan for Hage’s boss to consider: he wanted to build a lab in Liberia to make ecstasy and ice, an amphetamine drug. Using Fombah Sirleaf’s backing and influence, he told Hage, it would be easy to import the chemicals required to synthesise the drugs. He claimed to know 10 Mexican chemists– the best in the business – who could staff the lab. At one point, when Hage was talking about distributing ecstasy in the United States, Chigbo highlighted the perils of doing business there, without going into his first hand experience of those risks.
“America is a delicate market,” he said.
“Everywhere is delicate,” Hage replied. “Chigbo, tell me one place where it’s not delicate. Even fucking Colombia is delicate, man.”
“Everywhere is delicate, but what I’m talking about is in the sense that everywhere else you can do it and you can get fucked up and you can go home,” Chigbo continued. That wasn't the case in the US, he said.
He knew, he explained, because he had lived in the US for 15 years. “I went to school in America. University of Minnesota.”
“Really?,” Hage asked.
“Yes, I played football in America, I went to school on a scholarship for playing football, American football,” Chigbo replied.
“Wow. Which … which?”
“Golden Buffaloes,” Chigbo said. It sounded like a plausible name for a team.
“Really?” Hage asked, doing his best to sound admiring rather than sceptical.
“You could have been a multimillionaire without all this shit,” Hage said.
Chigbo laughed, then continued with the story. He had been drafted by the New York Jets, he said, but had to quit after a year because of an injury.
“I couldn't perform. So that was it,” he said.
“I'm sorry to hear that,” Hage replied, sounding sincere. “But you are OK now?”
“Yeah. I'm OK, you know, I'm OK.”
While these meetings were going on, Stouch and his fellow DEA agents had to cool their heels at their hotel, reviewing the recordings of each day’s conversations. As the wait for the anticipated shipment stretched from days to weeks, with the traffickers informing Hage of new delays, frustration mounted for the agents. “We called it Operation Speculation at those points,” Rapazsky told me. “When you do these cases, you get used to the drug traffickers not getting there on time.” To keep themselves occupied, the agents hit the hotel gym frequently. Stouch – who was training for a triathlon back home – ventured out to the ocean to swim whenever he could.
Finally, in mid-May, Hage got an email from Chigbo’s Colombian partner, Marcel Acevedo Sarmiento, providing the flight plan for the shipment. It said that the aeroplane would take off from Venezuela on 26 May. Weather problems got in the way, and the departure was scheduled for two days later. Then, on 29 May, Acevedo called Hage to say the plane had been seized by Venezuelan authorities on the tarmac.
The DEA and Sirleaf’s agency decided it was time to end the charade. Hage asked Chigbo to come to Sirleaf’s office the next day. When Chigbo showed up, Sirleaf’s assistant led him to a waiting room, where he found himself surrounded by policemen from the NSA. “I don’t want you to make any sudden moves, because if you do you could lose your life in this office,” the assistant told Chigbo. “I want to see the director,” Chigbo said with anguish, as he was put in handcuffs. “It must be a mistake.” Around the same time, another set of NSA cops arrested Yaroshenko at the hotel where he had been staying.
When Chigbo was being taken to another floor of the NSA headquarters for fingerprinting, Sirleaf passed him by on the stairway. “He didn’t look me in the eye,” Sirleaf told me. “I felt bad. Because you have been in this undercover capacity for such a long time, you develop a relationship, like you are friends, but really you are not. You feel so awkward. It’s a funny feeling.” While Chigbo was being fingerprinted, Gaye walked into the room. “Do you know this guy?” somebody asked Chigbo, pointing at Gaye. Chigbo nodded in recognition, his facial expression betraying a sense of unpleasant deja vu.
On April 10 2011, Chigbo, Yaroshenko and two of Chigbo’s accomplices stood in a federal courtroom in Manhattan, facing trial for conspiring to bring cocaine into the United States. The case rested on the DEA’s secret recordings of the conversations these men had had with Hage and Sirleaf over the previous year. Chigbo and the others now understood precisely why Hage had in the course of these meetings mentioned, time and again, that he intended to send a portion of the cocaine to the US. The traffickers’ acquiescence to Hage’s plan – even though they hadn’t thought of it themselves – was enough for them to be charged with violating American law.
None of the defendants except Yaroshenko had any qualms accepting their involvement in the global drug trade. Chigbo’s lawyer, Ivan Fisher, described his client as having been “for a very long time a very active international drug merchant all over the world”. But even though putting an end to drug trafficking anywhere in the world was a noble thing to do, Fisher argued, the United States government had no right to punish Chigbo for his actions as long as those actions did not harm the United States. “You see, no crime against the United States was ever afoot until this man named Nabil [Hage] went around attempting to create it,” Fisher said. He argued that Chigbo had in fact, after serving his six-year sentence in the US years earlier, effectively become a spokesperson for the DEA in the narcotics world, dissuading dealers from sending drugs to the US because of the risks involved.
In the end, that argument failed to save Chigbo. The jury delivered a guilty verdict for him as well as for Yaroshenko. Chigbo was later sentenced to 30 years in prison, and Yaroshenko was handed a 20-year sentence. Acevedo Sarmiento, who was to supply the cocaine, was arrested by Colombian authorities and extradited to the US. He pleaded guilty and, in March 2013, was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Chigbo and I began talking by email and phone shortly after he was placed in a medium-security prison in Allentown, Pennsylvania, to begin serving his sentence. He called me once on his 44th birthday to tell me how angry he was to be thousands of miles away from friends and family. “What I did in Africa is wrong. My way of life is wrong,” he told me. “But I have nothing to do with the United States. I did not live here. I did not go to school here. I did not pay taxes here. I never asked for a loan from a US bank to start my business in Africa. I believe I have the right to make my living the way in the way I see fit in Africa, and if Nigerian law caught up with me, I should be punished there, not in the United States of America.”
Chigbo told me that he had explicitly advised against sending cocaine to the US – Europe was a more profitable market.In later conversations, Chigbo told me that he had explicitly advised Hage and Sirleaf against sending cocaine to the US, since Europe was a far more profitable market. The price of bulk cocaine in parts of the US is comparable to what it sells for in countries such as Nigeria and Ghana, Chigbo wrote to me in an email. The shipment from South America would have fetched $21,000 per kilogramme in Liberia itself and $25,000 per kilogramme in Ghana, he said, while selling for a marginally higher $27,000 per kilogramme in New York – about half the price it would command in Italy or France. “The ultimate goal of a drug dealer is to make money and make it safe,” he told me. Knowing the risks of transporting cocaine from Africa to the US, and given the slim profit margin, “tell me who will be doing that kind of deal?” Chigbo asked. “Only the delusional DEA.”
I asked Milione what he thought of Chigbo’s defence. Milione did not deny that it would generally make more economic sense for traffickers to ship cocaine from west Africa to Europe rather than to the US. However, he said, that would not automatically preclude traffickers from also taking advantage of opportunities to send a supply to the US. For example, if a trafficker had a trustworthy contact at an airline flying to New York, Milione explained, the trafficker would not mind sending a shipment there, even if the profit were smaller than selling to Europe. “The connection that they have at the airport in west Africa is the one that’s going to give them personal profit,” he told me. “They don’t care about the logic. They care about making money.”
Even though the US was not their chosen destination country, Milione denied that Chigbo and Yaroshenko were hapless victims of a DEA trap. “They knew that a portion of what was coming into Liberia was going to go to the United States. They didn’t choose to walk away,” he said. “They were nervous about that fact because they didn’t want to necessarily expose themselves to US laws but they still went forward on it.”
Milione portrayed the investigation less as an example of the US policing the world and more as a strategic strike against the multi-headed hydra of global drug trafficking – intended to help both the United States and its allies in Europe and Africa. “There was a national security interest in making sure that the trafficking groups that are in west Africa don’t believe they are completely untouchable,” Milione said.
Some have questioned the policy, especially the lengths to which the DEA is going to in order to bring these cases under US jurisdiction. As Jeralyn Merritt, a criminal-defence lawyer in Colorado, puts it on her blog, TalkLeft: “Considering unless the DEA demands otherwise, the (illusory) drugs are going from South America to Africa to Europe, why is it even their business to intervene? Or to steer non-US criminal activity into the US?”
The intervention does appear to be having an impact, however. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the estimated flow of cocaine through west Africa declined from 43 tonnes in 2007 to 16 tonnes in 2013. Bruce Bagley, an international studies professor at the University of Miami who examines the effects of the narcotics trade on security, believes it is worthwhile for the US to continue dismantling drug trafficking networks in the region. “The US needs to disrupt these organisations in west Africa to prevent them from growing much stronger and threatening many weakly institutionalised African governments in danger of becoming failed states,” he says.
For Sirleaf and Gaye, who now runs a security company in Monrovia, the operation’s success was more than an accomplishment in law enforcement. It was also a tribute to their friendship and shared love for Liberia. If the traffickers had succeeded in developing a base on Liberian soil, they told me, it would have done incalculable harm to the country’s future. “It would have been terrible,” Sirleaf said. “When you infuse that kind of money into a political system, you’re going to turn it into a narco-state.”
During the early 1980s, the Medellin cartel ran the bulk of its cocaine into North America through Florida. It was nine-hundred-miles from Colombia to Florida. Planes would drop water-proof loads of coke into the ocean off Florida. Forty foot speedboats – called go-fast boats – would pick it up and dash ashore with their valuable contents. At other times, the planes would simply drop their loads onto the interior of Florida, where it would be met by trucks.
|1977 Meeting of Medellin and Mexican Cartels|
|Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo|
|Rafael Caro Quintero|
|Juan Ramon Matta Ballesteros|
Gallardo smelled a rat. Something was fishy in Denmark. A meeting was called. All the major players arrived and discussed the situation. Later, another meeting was held. All evidence pointed to Kike.
Kike and his pilot, Alfredo Zavala Avelar, were leaving the American consulate building in Guadalajara, when five gangsters attacked them, threw jackets over their heads, and tossed them into a waiting Volkswagen van. One month later, the bodies of Kike and Avelar were discovered hundreds of miles away, in Michoacan. The corpses were decomposing, hands and legs still bound. Obviously, both men had been tortured and mercilessly beaten; a stick had been inserted in Kike’s rectum. Autopsy revealed that Kike had died when his skull was caved in by a blunt object.
Later, after an intensive investigation, the DEA discovered the five gangsters responsible for Kike’s abduction were not gangsters. They were Jalisco police officers. The five officers were arrested by the Federales and interrogated. All five officers confessed their part in the kidnapping, signing written confessions. The confessions resulted in the arrest of eleven more individuals. Warrants were issued for Rafael Caro Quintero and Ernesto Carrillo. Rumor had it that Quintero was behind the killing of Aviles Perez, whose death allowed Felix Gallardo to take control of Perez’s drug kingdom. The DEA pursued Quintero, who they found in Costa Rica. Special Forces arrested Quintero and extradited him to Mexico, where he was interrogated. Quintero’s interrogation didn’t take long; he spilled the beans, admitting he had planned the kidnappings.
The Mexican army found Ernesto Carrillo in Acapulco, where they arrested him. Carrillo also confessed to the kidnappings, but denied participation in Kike’s torture and murder. Eventually, the DEA pinpointed a house in Guadalajara, where the two men had been tortured. The DEA came away from the entire episode with a bad taste in their mouths. Events had exposed just how corrupt Mexico was. Evidence had been deliberately destroyed, obscured and withheld.
|Pedro Avilés Pérez|
Matta brokered a deal. On their part, the Colombians would provide cocaine to the Sinaloans, who would transfer it north of the border. Once in the U.S., the Colombian distributors would pick it up and sell it. It was a win-win business deal. The Colombians would move product and make money; the Sinaloans would smuggle and make money, lots of money, especially since Gallardo insisted on being paid cash for the services of his gang.
It worked like a charm.
Eventually, so much cocaine was being moved by the Mexicans that they had difficulty storing the cash. There were literally boxcars of money. In other words, everything was just peachy. But then Gallardo had an idea. Rather than being paid in cash, he could demand payment in product, cocaine. And that’s just what he did. The Colombians didn’t balk. They couldn’t. They had no choice in the matter. Florida was too risky. The DEA was seizing shipments left and right.
Overnight, Felix Gallardo and the Sinaloan gang became cocaine kings. They weren’t just couriers anymore. Now they were players, moving their own product as well as that of the Colombians. The Sinaloans went from the minor leagues to the major leagues in a single leap. In the drug trafficking world, Felix Gallardo transitioned from the role of supporting actor to movie star. The DEA began keeping close tabs on Gallardo, elevating his position on their Christmas Wish List.
Gallardo was a criminal, but no one had ever accused him of being stupid. He knew the DEA lusted for him. They wanted his ass dead or in prison. Gallardo, attempting to lower his exposure, moved his family to Culiacan. As soon as he arrived, he called for a high-level meeting. All the Big Wheels of the various gangs in Guadalajara showed up. Gallardo informed the gang leaders that he was stepping out of the limelight. He was still the Boss of Bosses, and they still had to pay tithes. Gallardo wasn’t giving up his rightfully due share of the profits. Only now, instead of being both the Chief Executive Officer and Chief Operating Officer, he would simply be the CEO. Day-to-day operations would be handled by territorial leaders. In other words, Gallardo was delegating authority.
Tijuana, considered the crème de la crème of the territories, was given to Gallardo’s nephews. Nepotism was nothing new among the gangs; it was considered standard operating procedure. The nephews, the Arellano Felix brothers, would control and operate out of Tijuana, which came to be called the Tijuana Cartel. What would become the Juarez Cartel was given to Amado Carrillo Fuentes. Fuentes owned and operated twenty-seven Boeing 727s, in which he flew drugs into Mexico. After flying the drugs in, the planes were loaded with cash, which was flown out for laundering.
|Amado Carrillo Fuentes|
|Hector “The Blond” Palma Salazar|
Unfortunately, the reorganization of his drug empire didn’t work out quite as well as Gallardo had envisioned. For one thing, Gallardo didn’t know how to maintain a low profile. He doled out vast amounts of cash to local charities and hung out with well-known politicians, with whom he was frequently photographed at glittering festivals and parties covered by national media outlets. Gallardo became the subject of many popular songs – narcocorridas – that served to increase his notoriety. And, to make things worse, the cartels, especially the Sinaloa Cartel, thought they could do anything because they had law enforcement officials in their pockets. Most of the police were taking bribes to look the other way. Kidnappings, rapes and murders went through the ceiling. In fact, they went so high that the government couldn’t help but notice.
The heat was on.
The Mexican government, appalled at the atrocities committed by the cartels, began an investigation of the Mexican Cartels. The investigation revealed what was common knowledge: the police were corrupt. It was like cancer, spreading everywhere. Pressured by the DEA, the Mexican government decided to clean house. The Mexican army arrested Gallardo in 1989. Then they interrogated 300 members of the Culiacan police force. Seven officers were indicted for accepting bribes, while almost one-third of the rank and file police officers quit after being questioned.
Mexico would not extradite criminals to any nation where they could face the death penalty. Therefore, Gallardo was tried in a Mexican court. Sentenced to forty years in prison, Gallardo continued to run his empire from behind bars, where he was allowed to use a cell phone. Still, because Gallardo was essentially out of the loop, his organization sank into the quicksand of rivalries and greed. Avaricious for money and territory, the Mexican Cartels eyed each other with suspicion and jealousy.
The Sinaloa Cartel didn't like the hand they had been dealt. In effect, they had only two ways to move drugs into the U.S., through Tecate and Mexicali, neither of which led to lucrative markets, like southern California or Arizona. The Sinaloa Cartel took a look around and considered their options. To the east was Sonora, but the Sonora Cartel had lots of men and lots of guns. The other option was Tijuana, controlled by the Arellano Felix brothers, who the Sinaloa Cartel considered easier pickings. So they went to war with the Tijuana Cartel.
Benjamin Arellano Felix ran the Tijuana Cartel. His brother, Eduardo, ran the financial side of the business, taking care of the money laundering. Ramon, a younger brother, functioned as the Tijuana Cartel’s enforcer. The oldest brother, Francisco, paid off politicians and police officers. Francisco, who was an ostentatious cross-dresser, owned five houses and a discotheque called Frankie O’s. In his heyday, Francisco was greasing palms to the tune of six million dollars per month. The Tijuana Cartel was atypical in that many of their gang members were from affluent middle-class families. They dressed in expensive, stylish clothing, spoke English, and were educated. Most of them eschewed tattoos. They transported heavy weapons into Mexico and drugs into the U.S.
The Tijuana Cartel employed a take no prisoners’ policy. They murdered indiscriminately. Their enforcer, brother Ramon, believed that terror kept people in line. Ramon’s favorite methods of intimidation included the Colombian Necktie, where he slit the person’s throat, and then pulled the tongue out through the slit; using plastic bags to suffocate the enemy; cutting off heads; immersing people in acid baths; and what was called “carne asada,” where people were immolated on piles of burning tires.
When the Sinaloa Cartel tried to move in on the Tijuana Cartel’s territory, they discovered the pickings weren’t as easy as they thought. Things got bloody real fast, and the Sinaloa Cartel realized they had pulled the tail of a tiger. In an effort to escape a no-win situation, Shorty Guzman, head of the Sinaloa Cartel, called for a meeting with the Arellano Felix brothers. The two cartels met and negotiated. The Arellano Felix brothers held the winning hand and knew it. In the end, they permitted the Sinaloa Cartel to move product through Tijuana, but the Sinaloa Cartel had to pay a hefty tariff for the privilege. The brothers also insisted on total access to the Mexicali smuggling route into the U.S.
The deal was set.
Only Shorty Guzman didn't like the deal. Providing his men with Federales uniforms and automatic assault rifles, Shorty ordered them to hit a disco in Puerto Vallarta. The disco was owned and operated by a close friend of the Arellano Felixes. Shorty had reliable information that the Arellano Felix brothers would be at the disco. The Sinaloa gangsters rushed into the disco, weapons blazing. Hearing the shooting, the Arellano Felix brothers realized what was going on. Running to the nearby bathroom, the brothers used the sink as a ladder to the bathroom’s skylight. Smashing through the skylight, they climbed onto the roof of the disco. Jumping down, they fled into the night.
Shorty’s costumed men killed nineteen people, eight of which were members of the Tijuana Cartel.
Livid with anger, the Arellano Felix brothers plotted their revenge. In May 1993, they put their plan into action. Learning that Shorty Guzman would be in a white Mercury Grand Marquis at the Guadalajara International Airport, Ramon sent hit men from the Tijuana Cartel to kill Guzman. The hit men set up an ambush for the car. When it arrived, the hit men deluged the car with bullets from automatic weapons. The two men in the car died on the spot, along with five other travelers who had the bad luck to be in the field of fire.
Shorty Guzman was not in the car. The man the hit men thought was Shorty Guzman was none other than a Cardinal in the Catholic Church, Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo. Since most Mexicans were Catholics, the people of Mexico were shocked and horrified by the murder. As details of the tragedy emerged, it was the first time many Mexicans heard the term “drug cartels.” The news media ran feature stories on the cartels, along with stories about the Arellano Felix brothers and Shorty Guzman. The fact that these cartels could ruthlessly murder a Cardinal of the Catholic Church spoke volumes about their power and lack of morality. Indignant at the government’s seeming impotence, the people of Mexico demanded justice.