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Drugs: A global business – June 2000

Forums Drugs Drugs: A global business – June 2000

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  • Drugs: A global business

    By BBC News – Friday, 9 June, 2000

    Copyright: BBC News

    Cupping a match in his hands, Sergeant Joe Ferrera of the Trinidadian police stoops to light the base of an unconventional bonfire.

    The kindling takes, and after a few seconds he steps back – a broad grin on his face – to admire his work.

    With impressive nonchalance, he has just set alight about $1m worth of finest Trinidadian marijiuana crop.

    ‘Yes, it feels a little strange’ he says, ‘but at least this way the drug dealers won’t get the money’.

    Ferrera and his team spend much of their week on eradication missions like this.

    Clad in US army fatigues and body armour, they hop between remote plantations – sharpened machetes and kerosene cans in hand – doing their best to stem a constant but illegal tide of drugs.

    A darker shadow

    For many in the Caribbean, drugs have become a way of life.

    While a culture of relatively benign Rastafarianism has encouraged the local growth and consumption of marijuana – something some in the region feel should be tolerated – the drugs trade generally has in recent years started to cast a darker shadow.

    The Caribbean is one of the principal smuggling routes for cocaine from the Andes region of South America towards North America and Europe.

    Under the scrutiny of Colombian gangs, small-time Caribbean gangsters have been moving large quantities of cocaine by boat, air and person through the region.

    The trade has a profoundly negative effect on the area.

    Smugglers are paid in cocaine rather than cash and have created local ‘addict’ markets to offload their merchandise.

    Gangsters have sought to influence local governments using dollars and bullets.

    Single mothers with hungry children to feed have been imprisoned for trying to traffic drugs into Europe.

    All because drug users in London or New York are prepared to pay so much for their ‘fix’.

    A global business

    Drugs are big business. The United Nations estimates there are more than 50 million regular users of heroin, cocaine and synthetic drugs like ‘ecstasy’ world-wide.

    The global illegal trade could be worth as much as $400 billion dollars a year – almost as much as the international tourist trade – creating employment for tens of thousands of people both legally and illegally.

    Farmers, security guards, chemists, accountants, pilots, lawyers, bankers, dealers, policemen and health-workers are all kept busy supporting or combating the trade.

    The economics of the drugs business function like any other industry.

    If there’s a shortage of raw material, be it coca leaf or opium, the price of the drug goes up. If there’s too much, the price goes down.

    Just as any self-respecting multinational corporation has marketing departments or strategic think-tanks to plan for the future, so international drug gangs do too.

    South American drug cartels have, for years, been using highly qualified marketing and economic graduates to maximise their ‘industrial output’.

    European-educated whizzkids now sit in plush offices, scratching their heads and wondering how best to ‘market’ their product internationally.

    Market research

    One of the most frightening ‘marketing exercises’ was that conducted in Puerto Rico about a decade ago.

    Keen to move into the lucrative US heroin supply business, which until the late 1980s had been cornered by the Thais and Burmese, Colombian gangs began producing high quality heroin on home soil.

    Before moving into the US market they wanted a ‘guinea pig’ to test their product – to make sure it would sell.

    Using their established distribution network they started shipping heroin to Puerto Rico, an island with heavy American cultural influence, which the Colombian cartels felt provided a market representative of the US.

    The idea was to ‘test the water’ – if Colombian heroin sold well in Puerto Rico, the cartels would expand into the heroin business in North America.

    Street dealers were given samples of heroin to give away whenever they sold any cocaine. Free ‘taster’ packs for potential users – the ultimate marketing ploy.






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Forums Drugs Drugs: A global business – June 2000