OTTAWA—The leaders of the world’s eight industrialized economies are expected to address an emerging security threat as the global narco-trafficking business shifts toward new drugs and markets via a new hotspot: West Africa.
The United Nations released a report Wednesday showing West Africa is exploding as a major transshipment point for funnelling cocaine from central and South America to Europe.
The World Drug Report 2010, released in Washington by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), lends urgency to an issue that was discussed by G8 foreign ministers in March and has been placed on the security agenda of the summit.
The G8 leaders will sit down Friday afternoon with leaders from Africa, the Caribbean and Colombia to explore ways to boost the capacity of West African governments to combat the problem.
In Senegal’s capital, Dakar, the construction of many sprawling new luxury villas is suspected to be linked to money-laundering efforts of major drug dealers. Other countries targeted by drug traffickers are Guinea-Bissau, Guinea Conakry, Sierra Leone, Togo, Mali, Ghana, Nigeria and Liberia.
The UN report shows that drug use has “stabilized” in the developed world, but there are signs of an increase in drug use in developing countries.
With West Africa becoming a major transit point, there are concerns that corrupt officials are cashing in on the lucrative drug trade, and that burgeoning terrorist groups will seek a piece of the action.
Canadian officials, briefing reporters on the Governor General’s recent African trip, said in the last 18 months drug trafficking has exploded in the region, with much of the drug trade from Venezuela and Colombia moving into Europe via West Africa.
The UN report says world production of the two main problem drugs — opiates and cocaine — is declining, and cocaine consumption has fallen significantly in the United States. The retail value of cocaine in the U.S. declined by about two thirds in the 1990s and by about one quarter in the past decade, according to the study.
The report says that to a certain extent, the problem has moved across the Atlantic: in the last decade the number of cocaine users in Europe doubled, from 2 million in 1998 to 4.1 million in 2008. By 2008, the European market — worth about $34 billion (U.S.) — was almost as valuable as the North American market at $37 billion.
The shift in demand has led to a shift in trafficking routes, causing regional instability, the UN says.
People snorting coke in Europe are killing the pristine forests of the Andean countries and corrupting governments in West Africa, said UNODC executive director Antonio Maria Costa in a release accompanying the report.
Traffickers have been able to co-opt top figures in some authoritarian societies, says the report, citing the recent case of Guinea-Bissau, where corrupt government officials are identified as aiding the movement of drugs.
It indicates other worrisome trends for G8 leaders, noting that while drug-related violence in Mexico gets a lot of attention, the northern triangle of Central America, consisting of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador is even more badly affected, with murder rates much higher than in Mexico.
Venezuela has emerged as a major departure point for cocaine trafficked to Europe: between 2006 and 2008, over half of all detected maritime shipments of cocaine to Europe came from Venezuela.
The UN report called for more development to reduce vulnerability to crime, and increased law enforcement cooperation to deal with drug trafficking.
Just three weeks ago, the U.S. announced the arrest of eight suspects in a major drug trafficking operation that used Liberia as a staging area for the distribution of $100 million in cocaine. The son of Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a high-level security official, acted as an undercover agent to aid the investigation.
Other findings of the report include:
• The manufacture of “ecstasy” has increased in North America, notably in Canada, and in several parts of Asia, and use seems to be increasing in Asia, while it has plummeted in Europe since 2006.
• Cannabis remains the world’s most widely produced and used illicit substance.
• There is a serious lack of drug treatment facilities around the world.
Wed Jun 23 2010