Guinea Bissau Africa's new conduit for Europe's drugs - Mercedes-Benz Forum

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post #1 of 4 (permalink) Old 07-30-2007, 01:51 AM Thread Starter
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Guinea Bissau Africa's new conduit for Europe's drugs

Africa a new conduit for Europe's drugs By RUKMINI CALLIMACHI, Associated Press Writer
Sun Jul 29, 6:33 PM ET

The fishermen who came across the bags of white powder bobbing in the ocean knew they had found something valuable, but they weren't sure exactly what.

Back in their village, women unwrapped the layers of plastic and sprinkled the contents on their crops, thinking it might be fertilizer.

Soon entire fields were dusted with cocaine, say police who use the incident two years ago to illustrate how easily their country became the world's newest narco-state, a way station for South American cocaine heading to Europe.

"The drug traffickers look for the weakest point. We are the weakest point. Our people don't even know what cocaine looks like," says Inspector Quintinio Antonio, sitting in the dilapidated office of Guinea-Bissau's counter-narcotics police.

This island-ringed nation of 1.5 million is a fairly straight 4,000-mile shot across the Atlantic from the coca fields of South America. But geography is only part of the appeal for traffickers trying to get the drug to Europe, where cocaine seizures have quadrupled over the past decade and prices for the drug are now double those in America. The smugglers also need a weak, easily corruptible government and a population ignorant of the narcotics trade.

It's a need born of a changing drug market. The cocaine boom that gripped the United States in the 1980s is now under way in Europe, where consumption has grown two-, three- or fourfold in various countries over the past decade, according to a U.N. report last month.

The demand has made Europe a far more lucrative drug market than America: One pound of uncut cocaine can fetch $21,000 in Europe, compared with $10,000 in the U.S., according to U.N. figures.

To elude European airport security and coastal patrols more easily, smugglers ship drugs in bulk to Africa's western seaboard, where they are parceled out to hundreds of individual smugglers who use fishing vessels, sailboats and their own bodies to sneak it north into Europe.

The U.N.'s Office on Drugs and Crime says the world's total supply is around 2.2 million pounds a year. Interpol says 440,000 to 660,000 pounds of the drug enters Europe via West Africa.

Europe-bound cocaine has been found all along Africa's western spine from Mauritania to Senegal and from Liberia to Ghana.

One of the most important stopovers in this global network, say senior drug intelligence officials, is Guinea-Bissau, a former Portuguese colony with a language akin to the traffickers' Spanish and a string of uninhabited islands perfect for drug drops.

No one can say how much cocaine is funneled through Guinea-Bissau's 220-mile coastline to Europe. But in the case of 13,600 pounds of cocaine seized at sea from three different vessels in the past 17 months, the country's fingerprints were obvious — a ship registered in Guinea-Bissau, a captain from that country, airplane tickets found aboard a boat showing smugglers flew from Brazil to Guinea-Bissau before sailing north.

Police here say they know which islands are leased by drug lords, who use front businesses such as hotel construction to justify frequent plane landings. They know the addresses of safe houses used by Colombians. They have license plate numbers of SUVs supposedly used to transport cocaine and the tail number of a plane painted with a blue stripe from which drugs allegedly were unloaded — under military escort — at the capital's airport.

Yet over the past three years, they have made only two major seizures, and the head of the judicial police who led both was sacked — a move many say was retribution from politicians involved in the drug trade.

"The information we have clearly points to the conclusion that traffickers are operating on a large scale and with almost complete impunity" in Guinea-Bissau, says Antonio Mazzitelli, West Africa director of U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime.

If drug traffickers were to imagine a perfect base for their operations, they would have conceived something similar to the world's fifth poorest nation.

Its government is so poor its police cannot afford handcuffs. The judicial police, charged with counter-narcotics, has only two working squad cars for over 70 officers. Lacking money for fuel, they often run out of gas during car chases after suspected drug smugglers.

Officers earn $100 a month on average, but they have only been paid for two of the last six months.

There is no prison, so convicted criminals are housed in a crumbling Portuguese villa where food is scarce. Some thieves and murderers are allowed to leave to find something to eat if they promise to return.

The police say they are doing their best to stop the influx of drugs, and the government has openly requested Western help in combating the traffickers, but senior diplomats claim this same government deliberately keeps the police under-equipped because most of its officials have been bought off.

In September, according to police accounts, undercover cops were tipped off to a pending drug shipment and, afraid their squad car would break down or run out of gas, they rented a taxi. They arrested two Colombian nationals with 674 kilograms (1,486 pounds) of cocaine, an amount whose street value in Europe is equal to one-fifth of Guinea-Bissau's annual gross domestic product.

They squeezed the suspects between two officers in the taxi's back seat, the only way they could think to keep them from fleeing in the absence of handcuffs.

Weeks later a judge freed the Colombians. The cocaine, which had been placed in the national treasury, vanished.

Several foreign diplomats say the police are too ineffective to stop the drug cartels and the military has been bought off.

In April, police say, two soldiers were caught in a car with 1,400 pounds of cocaine, flown to the mainland in a plane that landed on a military airstrip.

Army spokesman Arsenio Balde denies that the military is systematically involved in drug trafficking, but adds, "I cannot exclude the possibility that individuals within the army are involved."

Although European governments are working with African states to stem the flow of drugs, "Africa is a windfall for drug traffickers," says Eloy Quiros, the head of the drug force in Spain, where 3 percent of the population now uses cocaine, compared to 1.8 percent in 1997.

Some critics say the system in Guinea-Bissau is hopelessly rigged in the drug lords' favor.

Given that a Guinea-Bissau police officer earns about as much as a gram of cocaine fetches in a Madrid nightclub, "the Colombians who come (to Guinea-Bissau) could buy the entire country if they wish," Quiros says.

Already, according to police, residents of the capital own at least four Hummers — a car worth more than 100 times the average annual salary — and two of the owners are unemployed men in their 20s and 30s.

Over a hill beyond the airport, three-story villas with swimming pools, basketball courts and guesthouses are sprouting out of the red dirt, the homes of the country's naval commanders and military elite, say police.

Offshore, the same islanders who until recently didn't know what cocaine looked like are becoming increasingly sophisticated and keen to spread the word on drugs coming in.

Each time a plane lands and offloads a suspicious package, they radio the information from island to island until they reach one with cell phone coverage. From there, it is relayed to Pindjiguiti FM, a radio station in the capital that broadcasts a description of the plane on the daily "Good Morning Bissau" show.

"When we call the authorities, they say the planes are unloading materials for a new hotel," says the show's host, Sumda Nansil. "It's been months, the planes keep coming, but there is no sign of a hotel."


Associated Press correspondents Mar Roman in Madrid, Raphael Satter in London, Heidi Vogt in Lagos, Nigeria, Marta Falconi in Rome, and Jenny Barchfield in Paris contributed to this report.
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post #2 of 4 (permalink) Old 07-30-2007, 07:36 AM
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Sounds like an interesting vacation spot.
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post #3 of 4 (permalink) Old 07-30-2007, 10:58 AM Thread Starter
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If drugs can be trans shipped, nuclear material could be a possibility.
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post #4 of 4 (permalink) Old 07-30-2007, 11:08 AM
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Africa's government should get involved. Even with graft and corruption that kind of money could end their hunger problem and either help them stop or step up the travesty euphemistically called "ethnic cleansing".

Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy; its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery. (Winston Churchill)
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