Counter-Terrorism: Cocaine Runs And Hides


August 7, 2010: In the last year, U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) has captured a hundred tons of cocaine, which is less than half of what it captured the year before. Something different is going on down there. SOUTHCOM controls all American military activities in Latin America, and most of these operations have to do with fighting drug gangs and terrorists. The two often work together, with the terrorist groups providing protection for the drug (mostly cocaine) production and transportation. The drug gangs pay well for this, and the cash keeps the terrorist groups (largely leftist organizations still fighting the Cold War) going.

SOUTHCOM has been successful. The longtime main supplier of cocaine, drug gangs based in Colombia, have been shattered and dispersed. Production is being moved to neighboring countries. According to UN surveys, Peru is now the main source of cocaine on the planet. This is because of eight years of successful military operations against the drug gangs and leftist rebels in Colombia. Thus, last year, Peru was believed to have harvested 119,000 tons of coca leaf (the source of cocaine), compared to 103,000 tons in Colombia. To get one ton of cocaine, you need to process 250 tons of coca leaf. That ton of cocaine sells for about $2.1 million in the country of origin. But get it to a major market, like the United States, and it sells for about $35 million to distributors, and for $120 million to drug users.

Bolivia is also becoming a major source of cocaine, with about half the acreage of coca plants as Peru. But the big money is in smuggling the cocaine to foreign markets, so the drug gangs don't care too much where the coca plants are grown. Colombia was, since the 1990s, the favorite place for the drug gangs, because of its proximity to major markets, like North America, and well developed transportation facilities. Moving the coca growing to Peru and Bolivia increases transportation costs. But given the success of Colombian military operations against the coca cultivation, cocaine processing and smuggling activities, moving to neighboring countries is seen as a wise choice. A lot more of the cocaine is now shipped east, to Africa, and then north, with the help of local al Qaeda groups, to Europe and the Persian Gulf. SOUTHCOM naval forces have been effective in capturing, or discouraging, the semi-submersible boats the gangs have been using to get the cocaine to North America. So more cocaine is moving north via Venezuela and Cuba. Both countries are eager to help, as their economies are otherwise a mess, and any source of dollars is eagerly sought after.




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