This is the fourth and last installment series on the Global Drugs Trafficking. Before, we discussed the basics of drug trade (Discover the Trade, pt. 1), how organic drugs are grown (How to Grow Coca and Opium Poppies, pt. 2), and how the drugs are produced (How Heroin, Cocaine and Meth are Produced, pt. 3).
Today, we’ll discuss the distribution of the drugs. After production, the drugs need to be distributed around the world. As is usual for the posts I write on drug trafficking, my source is the UNODC World Drugs Report (2010).
Distribution of Cocaine
Cocaine demands are high worldwide. However, there has been a shift in where the drug is in demand. Before (1998), cocaine was particularly popular in the USA. Nearly three-quarters of cocaine produced was shipped to and consumed in the US. In the past few years, demand for cocaine has increased in Europe and the amount of drugs distributed to the US and Europe are almost equal.
On the figure on the right you can see the global cocaine flows and how they have changed between 1998 and 2008. What is particularly interesting is that cocaine, these days, is more often shipped from South America to the African continent, where it is then shipped to Europe. Additionally, the Caribbean route seems to have become less popular (perhaps because of the alternative African route).
What I miss in this figure, is that it lacks information on cocaine flows to Asia. In the World Drug Report, it is mentioned that cocaine is consumed in Asia, and it has become increasingly popular on the continent. However, unfortunately I can’t say anything about the flows to the continent.
Ways of Transportation
From the Andes Region to the US
Most of the cocaine enters the US through the Mexican border. Border cities Juárez (Mexico) and El Paso (TX, USA) are where most of the drug-smuggling magic happens. The US has put fences along the national border between the two cities and regulate all road customs, but the cartels have found their ways to still get the drugs across. They have dug tunnels, and they’re not the tunnels you’d imagine. Some of these tunnels are thousands of miles long, with electricity and little mine-like trains running through them. The US border patrol has found a few of these tunnels in recent years.
Juárez is actually one of the most violent cities of the world. Since Mexico started their drugs war to break the power of the cartels in 2006, over 15,000 people have died (“Life and Death in Juárez, the World’s Murder Capital“, The Guardian, 2009).
Other cocaine shipments enter the US by water, often through big ports in Florida (particularly Miami) and Texas.
From the Andes Region to Europe
We Dutch quite often hear about cocaine smugglers in the news. “An individual was caught on Schiphol airport (Amsterdam), smuggling 2 kilos of cocaine in his belly”, or someone was caught with twenty kilos in a suitcase, or they had it concealed in their clothes. Twenty kilo, or even two, is nothing. It’s even irrelevant, which is interesting because you rarely hear about the large amounts of cocaine seized in the European ports.
Most cocaine enters Europe through the big ports. The port of Rotterdam (The Netherlands) is an important one, but due to language barriers, the cocaine smugglers (who evidently mostly speak Portuguese and Spanish) head for the big ports of Spain and Portugal. The amounts that are caught in these ports are astonishing. Occasionally “small” hauls of 300 kilos are seized, and in August 2011, the UK seized their biggest shipment of cocaine ever. The shipment consisted of 1,2 tons of cocaine, worth an estimated £300 million (nearly US $500 million) and it was destined for Rotterdam harbor (“Seized Cocaine Shipment Is The Largest Ever Seized In Britain“, UK News Gateway, 2011).
As I portrayed in the first, more general post on global drug trafficking, heroin has become slightly less popular, worldwide. Because of this, it has also become cheaper and thus has become more popular on the African continent and Eastern Europe (no exact causal correlation here, but this is, in a very basic sense, what’s happened).
On the figure on the right you can see the heroin and opium flows from Asia. Approximately 80% of all heroin produced comes from Afghanistan, next biggest producer is Burma (Myanmar) and a few percent come from the countries surrounding them. A few tiny percent come from the Andes Region, which aren’t even displayed in this figure.
Afghanistan has three main routes through which the heroin is smuggled, but after it’s passed through these main routes (through Pakistan, Iran and Central Asia and Russia), the heroin and opium are spread all over the continent. They seem to have a multitude of ways to smuggle the drugs.
Most of the smuggling goes by land – often carried by camels and other pack animals, in caravans. From Iran, the drugs are often carried to other destination by air or sea, in cargo containers. The shipments to North America are most often smuggled by plane.
Interestingly, what’s mentioned in the World Drug Report but not clearly displayed on the figure is that most heroin coming from Pakistan goes to the UK and The Netherlands. Pakistan is also the biggest supplier of heroin to Africa.
A recent BBC report (“Nigerian officials find heroin in shipment from Iran“, BBC, 2010) mentions a seizure of 130 kilos of heroin in the seaport of Lagos, Nigeria. The entire shipment was worth nearly $10 million, and the drugs were hidden in engine parts. What’s interesting is that in the World Drugs Report, a figure displays the nationalities of people caught in Pakistan for heroin trafficking, 32% is Pakistani and 32% is Nigerian. 14% falls in the “Other” category, the remaining 22% is made up of a lot of other African nationalities. That’s very interesting!
What are your thoughts about the global flows of heroin and cocaine? Are there any bits of information here that surprised you or that you find particularly interesting?