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Europe's Appetite for Cocaine

A Boeing aircraft from Venezuela landed on an improvised landing strip in Mali’s Gao region, with ten tones of cocaine on board. News reports about aircraft in West Africa loaded with cocaine are becoming more and more frequent. The drugs cartels in Latin America have discovered that they can reach the European market via Africa. Organised crime is such a rewarding industry in Europe because ordinary Europeans spend an ever-burgeoning amount of their spare time and money snorting coke through €50 notes.

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). 

The Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA) in Oslo and the Mario Negri Institute in Milan led a research initiative, directly collaborating with 11 European research institutes. Raw sewage samples from 19 large European cities were collected by the participants of the study during a single week in March 2011 and analyzed for the urinary bio markers of cocaine, amphetamine, ecstasy, meth and cannabis. The total amount of the drugs used by inhabitants of each of the 19 cities was measured and then the results were adjusted for population size.

The data show distinct temporal and spatial patterns in drug use across Europe. Cocaine use was higher in Western and Central Europe and lower in Northern and Eastern Europe. High per capita ecstasy loads were measured in Dutch cities, as well as in Antwerp and London. In general, cocaine and ecstasy loads were significantly elevated during the weekend compared to weekdays. Per capita loads of meth were highest in Helsinki, Turku, Oslo and Budweis, while per capita loads of cannabis were similar throughout Europe.

MPs Double Standard
A recent scandal broke out among Italian parliamentarians, in a clever yet classic sting operation staged by the producers of Le Iene, a popular prime time TV show, a Secret Drug Test taken by Italian parliamentarians revealed that almost one out of three Italian MPs appeared to have taken illegal drugs in the previous 36 hours. More precisely, the secret drug test showed that 16 out of 50 politicians had allegedly tested positive for cocaine use.The cult TV show Le Iene, sent a reporter and camera crew, purporting to represent Fox TV, to the Italian Parliament at asking MPs for their views on the 2007 budget draft. Yet unknown to the politicians posing for the camera, the make-up artist dabbing the sweat from their brows during their ‘interview’ was in reality collecting their perspiration in order to test it for the presence of illegal substances. The tests were conducted with a device called Drugswipe, used by German and Swiss police in random traffic checks,it can test for drug use within the last 36 hours in as little as five minutes. 

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.

Instead, the first episode of the autumn series broadcast a similar segment in which the Drugswipe test was unknowingly used on the patrons of a nightclub. Results showed that 20 out of the 40 club-goers interviewed had tested positive for cocaine. However, in this case the Italian Privacy Authority did not censor the segment.
Italian parliament Palace Flying High

But wouldn't an identical sting on the Italian public also be a violation of an individual’s privacy? Is this a double standard applicable only to Italian MPs who consider themselves above the law, yet the citizenry not? Is this so-called ‘privacy privilege’ among MPs valid only for those who passed the ‘zero tolerance’ drug law last February, abolishing the distinction between hard and soft drugs and making possession as well as dealing a criminal offence?

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.

Huge Money At Stake
Between 1998 and 2009 global production of opium rose almost 80% … "Just a decade ago, the North American market for cocaine was four times larger than that of Europe, but now we are witnessing a complete rebalancing. Today the estimated value of the European cocaine market ($65-billion) is almost equivalent to that of the North American market ($70-billion), it has simply experienced a geographical shift in supply and demand.
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.

Waterbed Effect

“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.

Weak States

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 the last few years, the Mexican drugs cartels have conquered the international market. 90% of the drugs in the United States come into the country via Mexico. The Mexican drugs cartels, along with that of Colombia, together form an enormous criminal force that reaches far beyond the borders even across oceans.


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.

This post first appeared on African Narco News, please read the originial post: here

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Europe's Appetite for Cocaine


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