By: Mathias Kling
Colombia’s drug trade is far from gone. This article explores the strange mechanisms that have originated in Colombia to export cocaine to faraway places where cocaine is worth so much more.
The Colombian drug trade, although remaining prevalent, has changed through the years. Currently, Colombia has historically high levels of coca-leaf production, while the refining of the coca leaf is a stage of cocaine production that has generally left the country. There was a 19% increase in coca plantation levels from 772 metric tons in 2016 to 921 in 2017, the highest it has ever been. Although there has been a large crack down on drug trade, and cocaine refining, Colombian drug traffickers have found a way to stay relevant in this changing landscape. Most notably, recently, there have been incidents involving high profile planes and significant weights of cocaine.
Earlier this year a plane left El Dorado International Airport, Bogota’s largest, in route for the United Kingdom with half a ton of cocaine. Upon its arrival to Britain the cocaine was discovered and arrests were made. The authorities were attracted by the scent of the strange nature of the professions of the individuals aboard the plane: two construction workers, a chefs assistant, a hairdresser and an unemployed individual. Hardly the profile of people that would make a nearly eleven hour flight on a luxurious private plane. When questioned, these men were not able to explain how they paid the three hundred thousand dollar fee for the rental of the plane. When their baggage was inspected they found fifteen bags full of half a ton of cocaine. The street price of this cocaine in the UK is approximately fifty million Euros.
This is not an isolated incident. French authorities landed another arrest over 1.2 tons of cocaine from a jet originating from Cartagena. Not only did the traffickers have over one hundred million dollars in cocaine aboard the plane, they also had a million euros in cash. These incidents are reminiscent of the eighties were these types of private charter flights were more common when transporting illegal drugs.
Incidents like these make it obvious that there is a network of drug trafficking that is attempting to use expensive flights to move their cocaine from places where it is produced, to places where it is worth far more. Nevertheless, the question arises as to what companies are chartering out these planes to narcos for them to move their drugs? This is a hard question to answer, the jets that are used for these types of transport are not always Colombian jets. On the contrary, the jets that were used to move the cocaine from Bogota to the UK was an Austrian jet. Nevertheless, where the Colombian companies do come in is when the foreign jets are in Colombian airports: they provide them with professional assistance in their hangars in Colombia’s airports where the cocaine is loaded onto the planes. The Colombian company discovered to assist the Austrian plane was Colombian Aviation Routing SAS, a company that shares the same commercial direction as another charter company Helistar. These companies have considerable fleets that have planes capable of transporting cocaine over a vast combination of distances. Most interestingly these companies have been known to transport high ranking Colombian government executives in their charters as well as private sector counterparts.
Events like these make it interesting to ask how the international drug trade is shifting. It would seem that using expensive flights filled with un-wealthy individuals to transport cocaine is not the smartest thing to do. Lots of questions are raised, and moving so much cocaine at once seems to be risky. To someone with no training in drug trafficking it would seem far safer to try and move small amounts of cocaine on shipping boats, that do not cost such an exorbitant amount of money, and whose loss would not account for such a big hit in the cocaine reserves. Nonetheless, these types of flights seem to be commonplace, and the number of planes that are caught are increasing as well. How the international community can come together to tackle this problem is challenging, even more so when the police officers involved in these types of crimes are paid off. One thing does remain certain, Colombian mafias find ways to maintain themselves relevant in the international drug trade.
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