A new drug trafficking route between South America and west Africa has grown so quickly that the 10th latitude corridor connecting the two continents has been dubbed Interstate 10. The amount of cocaine is moved along this route on its way to markets in Europe is estimated conservatively at 50 tonnes a year.
Enrique Portocarrero isn't a household name in the United States. He's not a household name in his native Colombia either because everyone knows him by his nickname, Captain Nemo which he earned by designing and building fiberglass submarines to ferry cocaine up the Pacific coast. Captain Nemo's vessels measure up to 60 feet long and are outfitted with complex ballast, communications and power systems. They are powered by 350-horsepower diesel engines, and the four-man crew had state-of-the-art radio, GPS and satellite telephone communications with a range of 2,000 miles, enough to get from Buenaventura to southern Mexico. Each sub can carry 10 tonnes of cocaine, worth $250 million in street value. Portocarrero gets a cool million per sub.
La Serranía de La Macarena
In May of last year, Colombia sent its Vice President, Francisco Santos Calderon, on a world speaking tour. His message was this:
"This destruction of the rainforest for coca production and coca plantation has gone on under the radar of the environmentalists. We hope that this will be a wake-up call. We hope that the World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace will start saying 'what is this?' "
Colombia's coca producers have destroyed 5.5 million acres of rain forest with slash and burn cultivation. About half a ton of pesticides, fertilizers, sulphuric acid and other chemicals are then used to turn every acre of coca into pure cocaine. And this doesn't even begin to take into account the indiscriminate aerial spraying that Plan Colombia sponsors. One of the world's most bio-diverse massifs, La Serranía de La Macarena is being lost. It is a convergence point of six major ecological and geological forces, each exerting its own unique pressure on the local flora and fauna. The end result is a high rate of mutation. The Serranía de la Macarena has been called a biological hothouse. And this biological hothouse is on fire. The Serranía de la Macarena is in danger of being burnt away.
Nearly 25 million people worldwide are estimated to have used amphetamine and methamphetamine in the past year. This is more than heroin or cocaine, and it makes amphetamine and methamphetamine the most widely used illicit drugs after cannabis. There are approximately a half million crystal meth users are in the United States. In Oregon, meth users account for 85 percent of burglaries. And yet, crystal meth rarely broaches our national conversation.
Afghanistan's Opium Trade Revived
Since the Taliban were removed from power by the American-led invasion in 2001, Afghanistan has once again become the worlds leading producer of opium. By some estimates, more than 90 per cent of the worlds heroin originates in the opium poppy fields that can be found in approximately 20 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces. The vast majority of Afghanistan's opium poppies are grown along the border with Pakistan, in five southwestern provinces with a Taliban presence. Helmand Province alone, a Taliban stronghold, accounts for half of the country's opium and "has become the world's biggest source of illicit drugs, surpassing the output of entire countries like Colombia (coca), Morocco (cannabis), and Myanmar (opium) -- which have populations up to twenty times larger." And while production did drop in 2008 from 2007, opium poppy production in Afghanistan is still at levels twice that of 2005 and represents a $4 billion trade whose profits are diverted to fund arms, munitions and other supplies for the Taliban. By way of comparison, the annual budget for the Karzai government is about $750 million.
Last year in Ciudad Juárez, across the Rio Grande from El Paso, more than 1,600 people were killed in drug-related violence, often assassinations carried out in daylight. 250 people were killed in February of 2009 in drug-related murders including at least six policemen kidnapped from their police post, their heads showing up a few days later dropped off at the police station. The city boasts a modern $15 million morgue and crime lab. Plans are under way to double the morgue's size next year. It also is expected this week that the Mexican government will have the military take over the city's policing functions. And yet incredibly, Mexico's Attorney General, Eduardo Medina Mora, said at the end of February that even though more than a 1,000 people across Mexico have been killed in the first eight weeks of this year, he believes the drug violence has reached its peak and that Mexico is winning the drug war. He's not alone in that belief. John Walters, the Bush drug czar, affirmed that view in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.
These are just a few of the data points that I could point to as the United Nations prepares to hold a summit on drugs in Vienna starting on Wednesday. Ten years ago, many of these same representatives met in New York at the United Nation's General Assembly's Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS). The meeting was dominated by the slogan: "A Drug-Free World: We Can Do It". If the above is success, what does failure look like?