‘Every Last Gram Of Cocaine Is Soaked With Innocent Blood’
Scottish police forces have launched a new strategy to deal with growing cocaine use, urging middle-class recreational users to “boycott” the drug. Gill Wood, the national drugs co-ordinator for the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency (SCDEA), says that young professionals who take cocaine should consider the “horrendous violence” involved in the supply of the drug.
She said police are considering launching an ethical trade anti-drugs campaign at summer music festivals. The move indicates a tacit acceptance that high-profile publicity campaigns focusing on the damage to health and illegality of using cocaine have had little impact on many young Scots.
She told The Scotsman: “You see people boycotting certain products, refusing to buy disposable nappies, choosing organic vegetables, trying to satisfy themselves their shopping basket is full of fair trade goods. But some of these same people think nothing of having a line of cocaine that’s caused immeasurable harm to others.”
She said she was taking “a swipe at the middle classes with social conscience that doesn’t seem to extend to drugs”. “There is horrendous violence associated with the production of the drug, with people being murdered, serious organised crime, children being mercilessly exploited. These are direct consequences of a strong customer base. If people were truly socially-aware in their lifestyle choices, they wouldn’t take cocaine.”
She added: “I’ve been to enough international conferences to be able to say it is a fact that children are exploited in the production of cocaine. That’s before you talk about the high level of murders and violence involved in warring factions. People need to know there are consequences. They should, in this time of ethical trade, give a thought to what happens in order for that drug to get to their dinner table. It’s politically and morally irresponsible.”
Ms Wood, a detective superintendent, said there was “tacit acceptance” among the authorities that many people can use cocaine recreationally and get on with their everyday life, “at least for a limited period of time”. She added:
“We are looking at this whole area of social drug use. We have discussed getting this message out at T in the Park as a good proportion of festival-goers will be switched on to environmental and ethical issues. It’s unlikely to happen this year but we are looking at it for the following year. We should try to harness laudable intentions of people to live in environmentally considerate and responsible way.”
Sir Ian Blair caused a stir three years ago when he made similar remarks on becoming commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, but this is the first time senior officers in Scotland have adopted such a stance.
Ms Wood’s call, prompted partly by recent predictions that cocaine will become Scotland’s most used illegal drug within five years, was echoed last night by the UK’s Serious Organised Crime Agency.
A spokeswoman said: “It’s seen as a glamorous drug but when the user is about to snort it with their friends, perhaps they might like to think about the fact it may well have passed through the body of a vulnerable young women extorted into smuggling drugs into the country.”
Cocaine: Call For ‘Ethical’ Boycott
Sarah is, in many ways, typical of her generation. The 36-year-old from Glasgow insists on buying fair-trade food and declares her concern about the environment.
The public relations officer buys the Big Issue from the man outside her local supermarket and is vegetarian “out of principle”. But like many other professionals of her age, Sarah also enjoys a few lines of cocaine, usually once every couple of months, at a dinner party or before going out with friends.
Her casual drug taking, she accepts, requires her to cast aside the ethical principles she normally holds dear. She admits to knowing something of the murder, kidnapping and exploitation behind how the cocaine reaches her friend’s dinner table. “But it’s not enough to stop me taking the drug,” she says.
Now a senior police officer leading Scotland’s war on drugs has launched a broadside attack on people like Sarah, and revealed a radical new tactic in the battle to curb the country’s growing cocaine use.
Gill Wood, national drugs co-ordinator for the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, has accused thousands of middle-class occasional cocaine users of being “morally and politically irresponsible” and told The Scotsman of plans for a new “ethical” anti-drugs campaign to complement existing campaigns such as Know The Score.
To appreciate the scale of the human and environmental damage, The Scotsman has traced the 5,000-mile journey that cocaine takes to end up on coffee tables across the country.
A gram of cocaine bought in Edinburgh or Glasgow typically costs around £50. Cocaine destined for Scotland is commonly flown into the UK, usually in loads of between 10kg and 50kg.
Drivers are paid about £500-£1,000 for bringing the drug into the country. And the possibility of being stopped by customs officers is a risk many feel is worth taking. Police admit that, while the amount of cocaine seized in the UK has risen sharply in recent years, it is estimated that only about 10 per cent of what is coming into the country is actually discovered.
Much cocaine is brought to the UK from Spain, the main first stop in Europe for the class A drug from Latin America. Vast amounts of the drug are landed along the Galician coast, either transferred at sea from a cargo ship into a fishing trawler bought by Colombian crime lords, or on to a speedboat.
The cargo ship will almost certainly have started its journey in Venezuela, the primary transit country for Colombian cocaine. And much of the cross-border trade is controlled by corrupt elements of the Venezuelan security forces.
Much of the traffic within Venezuela is in the hands of the “Sun Cartel”, a reference to the gold stars that generals in Venezuela’s National Guard wear to denote their rank. The cartel moves cocaine from the Colombian border to departure points including the port of Puerto Cabello on the Atlantic coast.
Another favourite route to the UK, again via Venezuela, involves the so-called “go fast” boats darting from the Venezuelan coast to Caribbean islands such as Barbados or Aruba, with their regular flights to the UK. There, the drugs are collected by smuggling rings which use “mules” to move the goods on – these human couriers swallow up to a kilo of cocaine in condom-wrapped capsules and masquerade as tourists on flights to Europe.
Sometimes couriers are blackmailed or pressurised into working for the smuggling rings – they might have debts they cannot pay and the only way to escape death at the hands of the Mafia is to agree to smuggle drugs. But with more than half of the Colombian population living on less than £100 a month, finding recruits is not hard.
The drugs trade in Venezuela has brought record levels of crime to the country, and the murder rate equals and in some places exceeds that of neighbouring Colombia, now in its 43rd year of civil conflict.
But it is in Colombia where the cocaine trade really pays its blood tolls. In the province of Putumayo, one of the coca-growing heartlands of Colombia, 115 bodies were exhumed earlier this month from mass graves.
Brutal right-wing paramilitaries assert their control over drug production, killing any who oppose them or who are suspected of collaborating with the Marxist guerrillas as the two sides fight over the hundreds of millions of pounds the cocaine trade brings in every year.
The Attorney General’s office believes that in Putumayo alone some 3,000 people are buried in shallow graves – more than 10,000 nationwide. Colombia sees more than 18,000 murders a year – an average of 50 a day.
And according to children’s charity Unicef, more than 7,000 children have been recruited by force by groups financed through drug trafficking. Colombian vice-president Francisco Santos last year declared: “Each gram of consumed cocaine is soaked with the blood of Colombians who have died as victims of landmines, displacement, terrorist acts, kidnappings and violence.”
The Colombian civil conflict would probably have ended long ago were it not for drugs cash. “Drugs are the fuel that feed the fire,” said General Freddy Padilla, the commander of Colombia’s armed forces. “The growth of the guerrillas runs parallel to the growth of drug crops in this country.”
The warring factions also control the laboratories that turn coca into crystallised cocaine. Often forgotten is the “cocalero” or coca grower, who tends the hardy green bushes.
In a way the cocaleros are also victims of the drugs trade. Most are subsistence farmers who live far from towns and the markets where people might buy any legal crops that they were to cultivate. If he is lucky, the cocalero will walk away with £600 profit per hectare per year, which will have to support a whole family.
But the cocalero might also lose everything to the US- financed planes that spray chemicals over drug crops across the country – chemicals that kill all plant life indiscriminately.
The money that filters back to Colombia from the drugs trade is for the most part invested in bullets, rifles and bribes, ensuring that the civil conflict will enter its 44th year with another 20,000 Colombians expected to die before the end of 2007.