Magazine article Newsweek International

West Africa: The New 'Drug Triangle'; Cocaine Now Makes a Detour on the Way to Europe

Magazine article Newsweek International

West Africa: The New 'Drug Triangle'; Cocaine Now Makes a Detour on the Way to Europe

Article excerpt

Byline: Eric Pape (With Silvia Spring in London)

A few weeks ago, Spanish authorities intercepted a rusty trawler, registered in Ghana, off the West African island nation of Cape Verde. Aboard, they seized 3,000 kilos of high-grade Colombian cocaine and arrested its largely Ghanaian crew. In December, Spanish patrols also stopped a Togo-flagged ship carrying 4.5 tons of the powder.

What was unusual about these busts was not so much their size (huge) but their provenance. Colombian cocaine making its way by ship from the west coast of Africa? According to European drug-enforcement officials, such stuff customarily finds its way to the Continent via air or boat, direct from its source in South America. The implication of the recent high-seas seizures is clear, they say: with South American routes drawing increasing scrutiny, Colombian drug cartels have adopted a new alternative: West Africa.

It isn't hard to see why. When it comes to penetrating Europe's southern underbelly, says Thomas Pietschmann at the U.N. office of drug control, "You look for the weakest point. That's West Africa." Governments in the region are too weak, too corrupt or too consumed by their own problems to enforce drug laws or adequately monitor their coastlines and airports. Add to that tens of millions of poor potential "mules," and the picture becomes all too clear.

Last year, Spanish authorities picked up 10 boats carrying some 20 tons of cocaine in what they're calling the new "drug triangle" between Cape Verde, the Canary Islands and Madeira. …

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