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An extensive investigation into global narco trade, trafficking, finance and stake-holders

United Nations, Cocaine, Morphine, CIA, Senegal, Colombia, Nigeria, Africa, Congo, Guinea, Congo-Brazzaville, Northern Transatlantic

World

An extensive investigation into global narco trade, trafficking, finance and stake-holders

Notions of nations as failed, corrupt, or even devoid of statehood in favour of labelling as narco-statehood, are all Western, European, or chiefly Anglo-Saxon-determined constructs built, maintained, and meant or spoken with specific ethno-racial superiority never far behind in the mind of the fiercest and most passionate defenders. Research-scholar Alejandro Cruz investigates the global narco trade, trafficking, finance and stake-holders

The Hydralike narco-governmental-industrial complex alliance rears but one of its multitudinous heads in the Republic of Guinea-Bissau (RGB) as not only a narco-state, but also a failed one, state, that is, for it remains largely successful as a narco-state.  It was bestowed this dubious honour over ten years ago by the United Nations due to how embedded in the official national fabric narco-trafficking had become.  Guinea-Bissau provides a prime example of weak democracy in which the necessary actions for nation-building must come from the ground up.  This is largely due to the well-known fact that international development aid does not trickle down to the masses, but, rather, gets stagnated in bureaucrats’ bank accounts which is why reform must be directed from the bottom of the socio-economic strata  Further, this raises the question of what a failed or weak state actually is.

Notions of nations as failed, corrupt, or even devoid of statehood in favour of labelling as narco-statehood, are all Western, European, or chiefly Anglo-Saxon-determined constructs built, maintained, and meant or spoken with specific ethno-racial superiority never far behind in the mind of the fiercest and most passionate defenders.

RGB is hardly alone in being subjected to external, alien judgement.  In Senegal, in which numerous international crime prevention projects have achieved measurable success, the issue is one of intractable occidental visions of correctness and effectiveness in law enforcement.  These frame the training, rewards, and punishments as experienced by native African forces at the hands of members of multinational NGOs with International Northern Transatlantic views of the world and how to conduct criminal interdiction in the face of a permissive and tribal or informal society.  Though across the African continent, the story repeats itself: Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, and Congo-Brazzaville all suffer similar cases of corruption, kleptocracy, and money laundering to include food aid stolen from the coffers of the national government and repaired to offshore accounts which are in conveniently permissive jurisdictions and sheltered via a network of jumbled, intertwined shell corporations.

Borders

‘Morphine or cocaine?’. With this simple question Sir Arthur Conan Doyle acknowledged that Victorian reader would have been aware of the international narcotics trade laced with gunboat diplomacy via which the United Kingdom became the modern world’s first narco-state.  Transnational narcotrafficking, ergo, has existed for centuries, but what needs to be scrutinised is how such groups need not necessarily operate completely with or without the support of a national government or be completely without patrons who exercise internationally recognised statehood.  Hezbollah, for example, known to have ties to Iran’s Quds Force, has been implicated in South American narcotrafficking, and even uses the same routes as smugglers between Mexico and the US.  Hezbollah – or Hisballah, depending upon the transliteration one uses – thanks to Iranian influence, has had access in Lebanon to the manufacture, distillation, and supply of hashish, heroin, and cocaine according to the United States’ Department of State.

This cannot be rationally equated with the official governmental supply of performance-enhancing stimulants distributed to war-fighters by the Allies as well as the Axis forces in World War Two.  This is so namely because in the case of the Second World War, there were bureaucratic measures taken at the highest levels of government to provision troops with drugs; however, Hizballah, on the other hand, acts at once as an organised crime group and a political violence or terrorist organisation, not unlike Colombian paramilitary groups.  Like any good criminal group, Hezbollah seeks out profits where they may, including conflict or blood diamonds.  In these instances, aside from working with the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) – who controls the Sierra Leonean diamond trade – they share friendly encounters with Al Qaeda (AQ).  While these two groups on either side of the Shiite and Sunni schism at prima facie may appear to be ideologically at odds, their common enemies in the West and shared profit motives or goals have prevailed upon them to make common cause.  Aside from international terrorism and political violence as well as involvement in transnational organised crime and money laundering, one thing the above three groups – the RUF, AQ, and Hezbollah – have in common particularly germane to the current examination is that at one time or another, each of them has held territory and/or provided basic social services to a dependent and vulnerable population which, in the groups’ view had been failed by the state.  In this regard, these stateless actors were, themselves, acting as the state, providing food, shelter, security, and other foundational elements of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Across the Atlantic, Annette Idler’s Borderland Battles labels such situations in which the fundamental requirements for the maintenance of life are furnished by nonstate actors holding territory as “shadow citizenship”.

Idler’s view is refracted through what she terms the “borderland lens”.  This lens is paramount to the understanding of nonstate actors who, by their very appellation, are not bound by territorial sovereignty, and because of that, one of the immutable, indelible factors to be taken into consideration of this reality is that shadow citizenship ranges beyond internationally acknowledged frontiers and, like an illicit Schengen Agreement, “if shadow citizenship extends across the borderline, the border itself helps disguise the transnational illicit authority of the armed actors.”  Like three-dimensional movie glasses which make it possible to view that which might otherwise be unimaginable, through the borderland lens, one sees that the “border effect” takes place precisely due to the borders’ geography: it is distant from major metropolitan centres of political power, and, ergo, subject to distortion.  Because of the distance from seats of power and consequent proximity to international boundaries, borders attract all manner of malefactors.  In a ceaseless cycle, the actors in question bring with them violence, which feeds insecurity, and likewise creates evermore violent circumstances.

The reason drug cartels and other criminal groups erect their states within states at or near international boundaries and violently compete to control access to the borderlands is because of the multiplicative effect that geopolitical borderlines have on financial investment products, or, less euphemistically, drugs, people, and weapons.  Between 1957 and 1963, the price of a kilogram of heroin in New York almost doubled, from 12,000 to 22,000 USD which was quadruple or quintuple the outlay by the Sicilian mafiosi in Marseilles.  Joe Profaci was in charge of the Mamma Mia Import Company which brought Sicilian oranges into New York, but in 1959, Italy’s Guardia di Finanza found a case in which half of the fruits were made of wax and packed with 110 grams of heroin in each one.  Had they reached Profaci in the US, a single case of these hesperidia would have been worth one million USD.

Three decades later, Sterling’s Octopus warns, the narcotics trade alone made the Sicilian Mafia and its American Mob progeny “[…] the twentieth richest ‘nation’ in the world – richer than 150 sovereign states”.  In the United States, they were controlling approximately 85 percent of the trafficking in heroin which itself was worth tenfold its weight in gold.  The American heroin importation industry was worth an estimated twelve to twenty billion USD per annum, a fraction of the 110 billion in narcotics sales over all with an additional 35 billion in Italy, and 300 more around the rest of the globe.  The return on investment was approximated to be 1,600 percent for every dollar.  The 1980s was also when the transatlantic Italo-American crime families’ “paramilitary pyramid” began collaborating with Colombian narcotraficantes (narcotraffickers), exchanging the former’s heroin for the latter’s cocaine, and even then, the potential profit difference by moving from one hemisphere to another was obvious: a kilo of coke in New York would set one back 11,000 USD, by the time it made it to Italy, the same kilo was worth 50,000 USD which is coincidentally the same price for which one could a acquire a kilo of heroin in Italy, which would quadruple in value to 200,000 USD when it arrived in the US.  Not to be left behind by inflation, by 2015, a kilogram of eighty percent pure cocaine in the US had more than doubled to 25,000 USD and skyrocketed to 150,000 USD farther afield in the Australasian regional marketplaces; however, to truly understand the power over price that changing location and crossing into new international markets has, one must consider the fact that the same kilo only gradually gains in worth as it gets closer to the major user markets.  In the jungles of Colombia, a kilogram of cocaine hydrochloride is about a tenth of its American value at 2,521 USD, but the price difference is determined by distance travelled and difficulty of passage, not strictly by the number of international borders crossed, which is why even without leaving Colombia, a kilo of eighty percent pure is worth more – 2,800 USD – at a port than the jungle lab where it was refined, but, having crossed borders, the closer it gets to the American drug market, the kilogram approaches parity with the first world price above: from 10,000 to 15,000 USD in Central America, and in Mexico, 17,000 USD.

All of this infrastructure and the people needed to see it through creates jobs.  The individuals involved, from the farming to processing, refinement, transportation, and security are employés of the entire supply chain side of the narcotics economy.  This is an exchange – perhaps not as equal as that which takes place between two mutually respected violent international stateless criminal groups as described above, but an exchange nonetheless.

“This stabilizes the income of communities who work along the cocaine supply chain for the various violent non-state groups: provided they are reasonably mobile, workers in laboratories do not lose their jobs [or lives], and suppliers of products such as coca paste can continue to sell their products.”  This creation and sustainment of the local economy legitimizes the cartels in locals’ hearts and minds.  This is shadow citizenship; where the people have otherwise been forgotten by the established and accepted mainstream definition of the nation state, a set of laws, enforcers of the same, and providers economic services have sprung up in its place: the shadow state.  The truth that the “low-risk/high-opportunity” of illicit border economics draws a variety of people as well as the combination of the realities featured herein, not least of which is the certainty that the governments in question refuse to take any substantive measures against the states within states and borders across borders, only serve to further entrench the affinity of the rural poor for the criminal gangs-as-Robin-Hood benefactors.  This is particularly so when the national ruling bodies in question with whom the urban elite have a firm understanding of the social contract are hampered by international norms regarding transgressing and traversing nation states’ edges which the stateless actors do not respect.  Three years before the United States of America unlawfully crossed from Afghanistan into Pakistani territorial airspace to permanently dispatch Osama bin Laden in 2011, the Colombian military, in 2008, impermissibly bombed a Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) encampment nearly two kilometres inside Ecuador.  As a result, the FARC’s second in command, Raúl Reyes was assassinated, but Ecuador – Colombia’s southwestern neighbour – and Venezuela – to its northeast – both discontinued diplomatic relations because of the inexcusable violation of national sovereign territory.

While the above shows that unexpected and unexplained incursions are intolerable and demonstrate a clear lack of respect for the international order, it is, by far, the exception, not the rule.  On the contrary, more often than not, the internationally agreed upon and recognised geopolitical boundaries serve as geopolitical barriers to law enforcement at which, under normal circumstances, police pursuit must cease without becoming subject to studiously prepared bureaucratic treatises.  The border, like Alice Through the Looking Glass, distorts the experienced reality on one side and bends it to fit the other.  It simultaneously enhances the cost of doing business while diminishing legal recourse and the imposition of cumbersome regulations.

This holds true in the case of Colombian cocaine traffickers as well.  When they are pursued on one side of the border, their labs destroyed, and people captured or killed, it is not uncommon that the crystallisation process to convert coca paste into cocaine is renewed in a neighbouring nation, and the clandestine airstrips with which the finalised product will be moved, are rebuilt on just the other side, where security forces might be more tolerant.

Colombia is, of course, far from the only example of borderlands as attractive for violent nonstate actors: the Taliban and AQ have each used straddling the AfPak border region to their networks’ advantage; al Shabaab is known to conducts cross-border attacks in Kenya; the South American Triple Frontier region divided among Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay is known to be a haven for smugglers and traffickers of virtually every possible black-market good some of which acts as fund-raising and money laundering for terrorists and drug cartels.  If one of the main issues, then, is the permeability of international borders as a cause of lack of interest or resources for securing them combined with the ability of violent stateless organisations to take and hold territory, thus carving out their own borders and redrawing the world map, then the question has to be how, when these groups are creating massive economies of scale which fund shadow societies with their own laws to be enforced, is it possible to move so much money from one side of the globe to the other, laundering it on the way, and legitimise the governance and business by such groups?

Banking

The principal facilitators of the lavage of ill-gotten gains are the banks themselves.  It is not that they are ignorant of the origins of the profits, but simply that they willfully turn a blind eye to the depositors’ source of income and do not wish to learn anything of the customers’ chosen métier which might otherwise compromise the bankers’ plausible deniability.  Arguably, the best known, however inscrutable, systems of banking which provide such services are those of Switzerland.  While Swiss banks’ fees are notoriously extractive, they offer a world-famous anonymity which has served them and their potentially dubious clientele – including Nazis, people hiding from the same, and organised crime.

Throughout the belligerency of WWII, and, indeed, before the first blood spilt had even had a chance to congeal, Swiss banks were instrumental in concealing the assets of Balkan Jews keen on exporting liquid assets to neutral locations to prevent repossession by the Nazis.  The Swiss, ever neutral when there were profitable deposits to be had, also entertained the Nazis.  Faith’s Safety in Numbers recounts that:

“By early 1945 German investments and accounts in Switzerland amounted to 600 million dollars.’ It was also believed that: ‘considerable amounts of German assets were represented in securities, currencies, works of art etc., held in Swiss safety deposit boxes.  German real estate holdings in Switzerland were thought to be worth 62.5 million dollars and insurance policies and annuities were estimated to represent 50 million dollars.  Privately owned German accounts were reported to in excess of 500 million Swiss francs”.

Swiss sympathetic to the Nazi cause are also known to have been responsible for directing the Germans’ funds to affiliated banks in Latin America and helping to convert said monies into foreign currency to make tracing the cash harder than before.  Perhaps one of the earliest examples of what was to be expected from banking secrecy was when, in 1912, Alfred J. Keppelmann was facing bribery charges in Philadelphia, PA.  He divorced his wife, paid her 100,000 USD in alimony, and married his secretary who was scheduled to testify against him the next day, thus rendering inadmissible any evidence she might have provided.

Switzerland was, of course, not the only option for those looking to dissimulate the questionable legality of their earnings.  Starting in the 1920s, the Sicilian-based American organised crime families found opportunities to profit during the American Prohibition Era by smuggling bootleg alcohol from Cuba, and a couple of decades later, by the 1950s, they were controlling an empire which included drug distribution to the US, prostitution in the US and around the Caribbean, and contraband luxury goods, but was laundered through corrupted bank and political officials, front companies, hotels, and casinos, all from an island measuring only 109,820 sq. km.  This all went along rather swimmingly until the Cuban Revolution’s success on 01 January 1959. After this, these same groups, by then controlling Las Vegas, began sending their dollars out for laundry service to Crédit Suisse, which was a development owed to the ever-adaptive genius of Meyer Lansky who, shortly thereafter, in the 1960s, established his own Swiss bank, Exchange and Investment Bank (EIB) in Geneva.

A decade later, by the 1970s, the general tongue in cheek consensus was, “What’s a Swiss bank without at least one Mafia account?”. The Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), founded in 1972, also known as “Bank of Crooks and Criminals,” however, established in Luxemburg, was not strictly Swiss, though it certainly entertained more than one account on behalf of international organised crime.  Despite this fact, the United States Department of State, on 24 July 1975, considered physically cohabitating with BCCI, sharing a building it would soon be constructing.  None of this is to say that BCCI had no Swiss connections, au contraire, four years after its founding, in 1976, the bank purchased 85 percent of Banque de Commerce et de Placements (BCP) – later to be known an BCCI’s affiliate in Genève – from Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS) which retained fifteen percent through its own subsidiary holding company, Thesaurus Continental Securities Corporation.  Further Swiss banking connections are evident by the fact that twenty percent of BCCI was owned by Swiss Bank Corporation (SBC) which later merged with UBS.  Some of the other major shareholders in BCCI were the Abu Dhabian leader Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and Banca d’America e d’Italia – which later merged with Deutsche Bank.

BCCI, headquartered in London, was well placed on the global stage for international banking success; however, a mere two years after its connection with BCP, in 1978, there were already signs of trouble to come and growing concerns regarding its net worth – or lack thereof. The following year, in 1979, the CIA began, and for the next decade, till 1989, to provide matériel to the mujahedeen staving off the Soviet incursions into Afghanistan.  The transfer of funds routed through BCCI to the fighters, some of whom would in the future come to comprise AQ and the Taliban, was facilitated by the fact that Ayub Awan, the father of Amjad Awan, the bank officer at BCCI Miami who managed Manuel Noriega’s accounts, was a director at the Pakistani ISI, which virtually guaranteed that his son would also manage the CIA’s BCCI accounts for the Middle East.  While this was taking place, investigations into the Iran-Contra Affair – for which it was later discovered that BCCI also had held the CIA’s bank accounts – were in full swing.

Perhaps the most damning evidence of government involvement in global money laundering schemes came from Special Agent Mazur’s five-year undercover investigation which lead to the downfall of BCCI.  From 1983 to 1988, he was Bob Musella, mob-connected money washer for the Medellín Cartel.  By the time he and his team lured several BCCI executives and Colombian cartel members to a wedding falsified to facilitate the arrest of the perpetrators, Mazur as Musella had penetrated the cocaine-traffickers’ upper echelons, meeting with people who reported directly to Pablo Escobar.  Musella also travelled the world, from his Tampa, FL base of operations to BCCI locations in London and Paris, learning how the bank’s officers, having knowingly and gladly accepted drug money deposits, transferred the funds to far-flung locales such as Panama, Bolivia, Colombia, and Switzerland all in a grand scheme to disguise its origins.  A good deal of this was made possible by BCCI’s conscious cultivation of corruption and complicity of major American political figures including former Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford, former President Carter, former Office of Management and Budget Director Bert Lance, the Bush family, and CIA Director William Casey, among others.

BCCI is not the only dodgy institution with which intelligence services were associated.  Bruce Rappaport “`was thought to have ties to U.S. and Israeli intelligence.’”  He was further known to have been a member of Casey’s unofficial clique, the Hardy Boys, who were suspected to have associated with the New York mob.  Rappaport co-owned with the Bank of New York (BONY) its Swiss correspondent bank, Bank of New York-Inter Maritime Bank (BNY-IMB).  The latter of these two, BNY-IMB, it was found out in 1999, sold financial indulgences and cleansed of its sins approximately seven billion USD of Russian money from questionable springs, of which the movement of about half was attributed to one couple, Lucy Edwards, a vice president in the bank, and her husband, Peter Berlin.  To truly grasp how incestuous the relationships among these banks was, one must look to Alfred Hartmann: After leaving UBS, Dr. Hartmann served on the board of BNY-IMB while simultaneously working for BCCI, and helmed its subsidiary, the afore-maligned BCP, of which it was publicly known that “[…] ‘drug proceeds were transferred [from BCCI] into accounts at BCP.’”  One of Hartmann’s chief confederates at BCCI was Ghaith Pharaon who was significant in BCCI’s secret ownership by proxy of First American Bank as was Kamal Adham, brother-in-law of King Faisal and Saudi intel boss as well as the middleman for CIA payments to Anwar Sadat.

In much more current events, Adham was named among those who held anonymous offshore accounts in Mossack Fonseca’s files otherwise known as the Panama Papers.  The Panama Papers detailed the leaked 11.5 million archives of Mossack Fonseca, what The Guardian calls, “[…] the world’s fourth biggest offshore law firm.”  While being possessed of an anonymous offshore account is not by itself illegal, it can certainly be said that there is cause for question when such accounts are typically used to hide wealth and/or launder money and pause for thought is a must when considering that Mossack Fonseca’s Panama Papers detail its dealings with the Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and his Colombian Partners, as well as other Mexican narcotrafficking cartel groups with money-laundering links to Uruguay, and at least one individual wanted for the kidnapping and murder of an American Federal Agent.  Some of the banks referenced above – and others – are known to have participated in Mossack Fonseca’s anonymous offshore scheme such as UBS and HSBC, Deutsche Bank, and Crédit Suisse – as well as individuals or corporations related to Vladimir Putin and then-Prime Minister of Iceland, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson.  Conceivably, one of the impetuses of Messrs. Mossack and Fonseca, aside from greed and profit, behind the creation of a law practice which has been described as “`[…] the accountant of Al Capone – a firm that clearly has chosen to service rogue regimes,’” is due to Jürgen Mossack’s knowledge that his own father, Erhard, had to escape and some point hide that he had been a member of the Waffen-SS before moving to Panama.  Giving others the chance to start anew and erase their past – or at least that of their cash – might have been something with which the younger Mossack identified; however, neither this, nor Mossack Fonseca’s attempts at deleting potentially deleterious records can blot out the fact that so long as permissive jurisdictions, obliging politicians, and greedy firms all conspire to facilitate the laundering, absconding, and legalisation of those funds, potentially numbering in the trillions of USD, which would alternatively remain “dirty,” the problem will persist.

Case Study

While narcotraffickers the world over certainly send nearly immeasurable amounts of capital to Europe for laundering, this is by no means the only product of their business with a destination on the Old Continent.  It is well established that European appetites for cocaine are fed with South American merchandise.  While, granted, the vast amount of consumption does take place in the United States – the total annual amounts of cocaine taken in Europe, Canada, and Mexico combined almost equal that of the US – over 100 tons per annum delivered to European shores is no small quantity.  It is also a known and oft repeated fact that “All Andean states are transit or starting points of drug trafficking routes to markets in Europe and the United States.”  It has, furthermore, been well-studied and widely publicised that the drug routes between South and North America are dominated by Colombians, Mexicans, and groups composed of a veritable variety of the various Caribbean nationalities using a combination of sea and land transport; what, however, may not have been as closely examined, is the path of cocaine from the New to the Old World via Africa: this trade route weaves together all three of the previously mentioned geographic regions – the Americas, Africa, and Eurasia – which goes to show that a global problem cannot be solved by acting in piecemeal localities.  The drug trade route though Africa also makes demonstrable the violent socio-political instability that can be caused by merely being a hub, not a place of origin or final destination.

History of Narcotrafficking in Africa

There is evidence which suggests that in post-World War II Western Africa, the use of marijuana gained in popularity as African soldiers demobilised, returning to their home countries with an acquired taste for THC after having served their European counterparts in Asia; however, there is also evidence which suggests that the traffic in marijuana was already underway in the 1920s, and that its use was in place prior to the war with cannabis-related prosecutions were taking place by the 1930s.  Regardless of which of these duelling accounts is accurate, the fact remains that by the 1950s, marijuana of African origin was being exported north to Europe.  In 1978, Gabon’s efforts to attract foreign investment from the Arab nations led it to allow BCCI to open a branch in Libreville, the following year, in 1979, the bank had a presence in Nigeria, and “[…] became integrated into a practice of financial corruption and money laundering that was ‘systemic and endemic.’”  Eight years on, in 1987, there were 33 BCCI branches across Nigeria and the head of BCCI in Nigeria, Ibrahim Dasuki, had been created the Sultan of Sokoto.

It was also in the 1980s, with the introduction of South American networks, that harder drugs such as cocaine began to move through the region.  In 1998, the United States government called Nigeria “`the hub of African narcotics trafficking.’” As time progressed, so did the reach of Nigerian narcotraffickers as they insinuated themselves into the trade throughout the continent.  Prior to the 1990s, for example, the South African government was far too distracted with apartheid to notice the influx of Nigerians, of whom, by 2005, there were at least 40,000, if not 100,000, of which ninety percent had immigrated illegally.  Nigerian traffickers favoured South Africa due to the quality of its transportation and financial infrastructure, and were considered to be among the most inexhaustible criminal enterprises operating in that country.  In 2005, 1,200 kg of cocaine were seized in West Africa.  2005, in April, also represents the first appearance of cocaine traffickers from Latin America in Guinea-Bissau (RGB).  The next year, 2006, more than doubled, at 2,500, and another 9,800 kg on five ships were interdicted by the Spanish and British navies operating in international waters off the West African coast – as compared to 3,700 encountered on one vessel in 2005, this marks a 166 percent increase.  The following year, in 2007, from January to July alone, 4,300 kg were caught by authorities in West Africa in addition to 2,500 in June of the same year in Venezuela on a private plane bound for Sierra Leone, and a further 800 kg were recovered from the sea off the Canary Islands, having been dropped from another private plane.

In November of 2009, a Boeing 727 possibly carrying up to ten tons was reported in Mali, and in June 2011, the UNODC made known its worry regarding the use of SPSS-type narcosubs in West Africa as has been seen in the Americas, but narcosmugglers are also known to use yachts, container ships, and – as above – private aircraft.  These numbers show the increase and scale of the drug trade routes from South America, through Africa, destined for European consumption as well as the international reach of the networks involved comprised of Africans and foreign criminal operators from Latin America and Eurasia of Brazilian, Colombian, French, Italian, Lebanese, Mexican, Spanish, and Venezuelan extractions.

Routes and Methods

Prior to the 1980s, Latin American cocaine smugglers flew either directly to Europe or via the US; increasingly constricting airline security, however, caused diversion to West Africa and the subcontracting of couriers, or mules in narcoparlance.  This is when Nigeria became the West African pivot point, later to be expanded into Ghana.  In 1995, Colombia exported up to eighty percent of the cocaine in the world and Africa is conveniently located to serve as a weigh station, a gateway to European markets.  The apparent sudden interest in shifting shipments of cocaine to Europe as opposed to USA may be due to the already well-established and occupied routes to North America, whereas cocaine represents untapped opportunities for entrenched and dependable networks accustomed to guiding all manner of goods and services north through and from Africa to Europe.  It was, in fact, the Nigerian and Ghanaian smugglers who pioneered the ingestion of drug-packed prophylactics later to be extracted on the other side – geographically and biologically, that is.  This method of transport was so prevalent that from January 2006 to September 2007, 316 people were arrested at the airport in Lagos, of whom 69 percent were “so-called ‘swallowers.’”  The other 31 percent carried the narcotics in their luggage.  In 2008, the UNODC found that most of the cocaine loads from Africa were headed to Spain and the UK via France or Portugal.  It has further been found that Venezuelan and Colombian representatives – specifically the FARC – have established bases in Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, and RGB.  Some of these encampments are evolved enough so as to have a money-laundering luxury hôtel in situ.  These Latin American traffickers-in-residence in West Africa are the human connection that cements the inter-sub-continent transatlantic trade.

The profit motives are obvious and the potential is astronomical.  Even despite the fact that – as above – Eurasians only consume a fraction of North Americans’ habit, the price difference is such that the total earnings are nearly equal because of how relatively expensive cocaine becomes once it hits northern Mediterranean shores.  This is another example of how borders shape the drug trade.  It also helps explain why, not to be outflanked by their Latin American partners, the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta and Sicilian Cosa Nostra are known to operate in Africa and Latin America.  Furthermore, far from competing with each other, ‘Ndranghetisti and the Cosa Nostra are known to collaborate together and with the Neapolitan Camorra to the point that the three groups are at points indistinguishable from one another, with leading Camorristi even being officially inducted with all the pomp and punctilio as fully made members of the Cosa Nostra.

Evolution of Events and Policy Implications

While a clear line of succession can be drawn from early and mid-twentieth century drug movements in and through Africa to today’s globally connected and sophisticated trafficking networks, one of the most concerning issues for academic and security professionals in this area must be the potential strategic alliances between traffickers and terrorists.  AQ in Niger, for example, is able to avail itself of that nation’s desert landscape which also shelters criminal acts and goods.  This geographic crossover in which traffickers and terrorists coexist provides fecund possibilities for organised crime actually funding terrorism.  Nigeria, aside from providing entrée for drug smugglers, has been beset by Boko Haram.  Indeed, extremists appear to be already profiting from the African narcotics exchange specifically by extorting “taxes” on the trans-Saharan drug trade route to Eurasia, or acting as guides for foreign cartel assets along the same stretch.

Until recently, the EU has not typically provided overwhelming support for anti-drug and counter terrorism operations in its southern neighbour, yet it does provide backing for security forces in the region, therefore can be said to delegate the combat of these societal ills to indigenous actors; these, though, do little to bulwark security, treating it as less of a necessity than a preference or suggestion largely due to paltry oversight and a viral culture of corruption.  This has naturally allowed narcotrafficking to grow and with it weapons traffic leading to “(para)militarization.”  Such groups, well-armed, well-funded, and well-connected, have the ability to strike at the foundations of legitimate administration in the region, and, as Ellis foretells, “A pliable sovereign state is the ideal cover for a drug trafficker.”  Pliant nation states range from the merely lackadaisical and politically tolerant, wherein bribes might accepted and even expected to the officially-connected organised crime groups which Julien labels “State Mafias.”  These State Mafias only make themselves known when they are detained by other regular forces.  RGB, for example, has verified military investment in narcotraffic, and where there may not be visible armed dacoity, it is generally agreed that there exist “`bandits in uniform”.  Herein is one reason why RGB may be considered a narcostate: “In other words, the influence of drug money into political activities is likely to undermine the democratic process in a region already characterised by political vulnerabilities.”  This, combined with poverty and lack of job security, may explain why smuggling and trafficking are seen as legitimate alternatives to legitimate employment. A narcostate provides official cover for narcotrafficking, actually making it a legitimate option.  Mamouna Outtara, the Burkinabé ambassador to Ghana, for example, was implicated in a drug smuggling ring, and the Ghanaian National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NGLEA) in its first four years of existence was mired in corruption and narcotraffic.

The long-term effects of policies of complicity are plain to see.  As smuggling and trafficking organisations continue to devastate democracies and influence their politics even at the most official levels, nonstate networks garner ever increasing wealth – to the point of being better funded than the government bodies meant to stop them.  These funds are reinvested in corruption in a vicious cycle of purchased permissions.  While a stable narcostate is possible, it is far more the exception than the rule.  Morocco is reportedly one of the most productive suppliers of narcotics anywhere and its government agencies actively benefit monetarily, but even it is not immune from the effects of the border’s effect on exportation and importation: one kilogram of marijuana is worth €800 in Morocco and costs €4,000 just across the Red Sea.  Drugs are, of course, not the only natural resources siphoned away from Africa, the riches only returning as graft,but that drug smuggling would spirit away so many of its people for the enjoyment of the comparatively wealthy First World, is reminiscent of slavery particularly given the myriad West Africans incarcerated on narcotics offenses around the world.  As at the outset of this case study, Africa is not a primary destination for narcotics, but its rôle as a transit point betwixt and between the Americas and Eurasia has impoverished the continent, and colonised it anew with rapacious, convulsive violence protected by poisoned promises of democracy.

Policy Issues and Conclusions

When the history of modern drug policy began in the first half of the twentieth century, world leaders and diplomats at the League of Nations concerned themselves with limiting the supply of narcotics to the bare necessities of a medical nature believing that supply side controls would halt the traffic of the derivatives of the opium poppy and coca bush just as they became outlawed early on in the 1900s.  Nonetheless, a century later, many in those nations which either serve to produce or through which illicit drugs must pass en route to First World consumers hold the view that trafficking has an air of legitimacy because it provides employment, income, and security in an otherwise unpredictable and volatile environment.

Nigerian traffickers in South Africa, for instance, have expressed a sort of cognitive dissonance in which they work with transnational organised crime to address the economic unfairness and inequity between the First and Third Worlds. Akyeampong rhetorically wonders, “Does some diffuse ‘Third World mentalité’ underpin these transnational alliances supporting international drug trafficking from the Third World to the First?”.  He goes on to illuminate the fact that exploitation in governance and at the community levels are unvirtuous cycles fuelled by “societal values placed on the acquisition of wealth irrespective of the source.’”  Likewise, the First World problems of drug sales, addiction, and related crimes are driven by the neocolonialism of the Rural South by those groups which satiate the Industrial North’s demands.  This narcocolonialism is reflective of pre-Cold War colonialism in that these same forces also cause economically-forced migration.  Ghanaians in London explained it succinctly: “`we are here because you were there”.  Their description enlightens why even in Italy, the street level dealers are African and suppliers are Italian, despite the fact that the drugs being sold travelled though Africa to reach Italy.

If You Can’t Beat Them, Buy Them

In the past, the ‘Ndrangheta has had an illicit income equal to approximately 2.9 percent of Italy’s GDP and are able to finance construction projects throughout Europe, doing that to which the modern nation state can only aspire.  When such impressive profits are available and given the threat of well-funded stateless armed actors, it is understandable that governments would find participation in the drug trade an attractive option, not least when it means that their citizens would not risk low quality and potentially poisonous sources, or that the people in power might be able to fund a friendly rebel group.  A bit further down the spectrum are those governments which, while not actively complicit in narcotrafficking, are tolerant due to the cash injections in an otherwise depressed economy.  And, at the other end of this range, are those politicians who, without sanction, use techniques similar to those of transnational narcotrafficking organisations to camouflage wealth offshore.

When nation states do, at the highest levels, involve themselves in illicit gains, they are, as a matter of course, extremely prolific.  Akbar Bilgrami, one of the erstwhile BCCI execs, sotto voce, accurately accused the United States Federal Reserve Bank of having exchanged “pallet-loads of […] hundreds of millions of dollars” for the Bank of the Republic in Bogotá owing all to astute economic practice.  “They know what generates that cash,’” he continued, “`That’s drug money that has been smuggled from the U.S. and Europe to Colombia”.  Jack Blum, BCCI investigator for the US Senate, likewise accused the British government of neglecting to monitor its own offshore banking issues:

“They are in the business of renting the flag, renting a foreign service to protect the integrity of these secret [offshore money-laundering] corporations.  The favored places are the [ersatz] British colonies around the world, whether it is the Channel Islands or the Cayman Islands, because everyone knows that the British flag will guarantee stability.  People were afraid of Panama because Noriega could be thrown out.  They are not afraid of the Cayman Islands because the crown [still] stands behind it”.

Not to be left behind, Nordic banks such as Danske have recently been ensnared in the disrepute of money-laundering humiliations due to their correspondence with Deutsche Bank.

Alejandro Cruz is a research-scholar and contributor to Blitz.

© Copyright Blitz 2021, Republishing the entire article or part of its without written permission from Blitz is prohibited.

Also read: The Man Behind Cocaine Pipeline of Ndranghetas Romeo Staccu Clan

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