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The International Writers Magazine: Drugrunners

The Galician Ganja Trail
James Skinner

‘We’ve got a real potpourri of world problems going on at the moment with a whole sleuth of experts in all fields trying to solve them. Al Gore is hell bent in saving the planet from extinction and is flying around the globe with all kinds of plans to try to stop us consumers from eating up the world resources whilst we exterminate with our excretions the rest of the other living beings that unfortunately have to cohabit and survive as they share the crumbs of what’s left over by our human extravaganza.

Image © Wendy McCormick

Meanwhile back at the ranch, economic big shots, pop stars and a mixed bag of politicians ranging from Bill Gates and Bono to our very own British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, are trying to resolve the world economic chaos at an international forum in Davos, Switzerland that equally points towards a worldwide apocalypses of total financial breakdown unless something is done about it pretty soon and ‘pronto’!

Most have yet to come up with a consensus of opinion let alone an action plan to save the world. Added to this summed up scenario of doom is the never ending saga of humans beating each others brains out. Revolve that world atlas you may have in your office or back yard, place a humble finger on any spot that happens to stop in its path and you’ve got strife and conflict. From Iraq to Kenya, from the Basque country to Columbia somewhere, someone is killing somebody. What a panorama! Yet there is one world problem that at the moment has relinquished centre stage of the major headlines. It’s the question of drugs; those evil substances that are causing so much heartache to so many families throughout the world as more and more of their young ones cross the threshold of common sense and hand over their lives to the underworld. The abusive consumption of heroin, cocaine and to a lesser extent, cannabis and alcohol by a large sector of modern society is the real issue behind most of today’s chaotic situation.

Drugs have been around for centuries. Ever since Adam and Eve, man has indulged in some sort of physical intake to transport his inner being into a world of fantasy in search of unknown pleasures. The history books are full of it. But in the XX century, particularly the era of economic growth in America and Europe following WWII, a new type of population emerged. One that once lived in relative poverty has been transformed into a consumer society that in turn began to search for new non warmongering ‘kicks’ to replace the boredom of humdrum peacetime. Before the war, only Hollywood stars and rich playboys indulged in heroin shots or cocaine sniffs but as the dollar grew in the pockets of more Americans so did the possibility to switch from alcohol, the poor man’s ecstasies to the high society stuff that sent one spinning into outer space and beyond control. A whole new ball game of racketeering was developed and a new breed of gangsters took over from the ‘old’ Chicago bootleggers of the twenties to become the drug lords of the future. It did not take long for the evil to spread en masse throughout the rest of the world.

When I was a kid I remember seeing a movie with Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak called ‘The Man with the Golden Arm’; the story of a card sharp hooked on heroin. I was living in Uruguay at the time, one of the tiny backwaters of South America where most of the wayward sector of the population indulged in ‘grappa’, a cheap alcoholic brew or drank a local tea called ‘mate’ that at most gave you a severe case of heartburn. The sight of Frankie injecting something into his arm and then proceeding to win a poker hand was beyond mine and my fellow school mates’ comprehension. Years later other great movies like ‘The French Connection’ and ‘The Godfather’ in the seventies, or ‘Pulp Fiction’ and ‘Traffic’ to name but a few of the screens greatest, brought the problem out into the open. They are all examples of the drug infested world that has now developed and that we live in and yet are unable to control or eradicate.

As in most businesses you’ve got producers and consumers and to bring them together you have the middlemen. Although the marketplace is common ground and the consumers are generally the rich sector of the world, each drug product is unique in its source and origin. The transporters or ‘couriers’ in drug parlance make up the rest of the motley industry.

In brief, most of the world heroin is developed from opium harvested by poppy growers in Afghanistan whilst cocaine is the final product derived from ‘coca’ leaves grown in Peru, Bolivia and Columbia. Hashish is a by-product of cannabis and is grown all over the place. However, the Caribbean islands are famous for producing and smoking ‘pot’ after Bob Marley boasted smoking ‘ganja’ whilst composing his famous reggae best selling singles. Although wars are being fought to reduce production – the 7th cavalry is hard at it in Afghanistan - the stuff still gets through to the consumers. But how is it being transported around the world? Phileas Fogg in ‘Around the world in 80 days’ couldn’t match the ingenuity behind the army of weird beings and their systems that resort to all sorts of methods in order to get the muck into the nostrils, lungs and blood stream of the future addicted victims.

Herewith are a few of many examples.
A single human carrier will swallow the stuff in pellets before boarding a plane from Cairo to London hopefully bypassing a dumb customs officer at Heathrow and finally depositing the product in a private home lavatory bowl. Or a female ‘courier’ will stuff similar elements of the drug up her vagina with the same intent. Less sordid transporters may try to pack several kilograms into a false bottom in their suitcase or fill a few tins of olive oil or other type container with a similar amount of drug. These are fairly well known methods of the small time operator. Some get through and others are caught. But the big boys are much smarter and riskier. Apart from airlines, shipping companies can be vulnerable to the drug trade. Hundreds of thousands of container-carrying vessels around the world have been known to hide tons into one or several containers with false interiors. These traffickers are part of a worldwide network of criminals that have usually paid off a few corrupt customs officials thus allowing hundreds of thousands of tons to enter the mainland without detection. Smaller vessels are known to anchor offshore, hand over the cargo to a fast speed boat that can outrun the coastguard and will then cast off at full speed to a secluded beach where a host of smugglers will be ready to receive the stuff and hit the trail by truck at the crack of dawn. The wrongdoers in Daphne du Maurier’s novel ‘Jamaica Inn’ are simpletons compared to the drug running mafia.

I live in Galicia, Spain, one of the main drug entry points into Europe. Similar to Daphne’s characterisation, the locals are fully aware of the smuggling that goes on and although the authorities are extremely efficient at intercepting a great deal of illicit cargo, no one knows for sure what percentage is actually caught and how much gets through undetected. Tons of cocaine and hashish are recovered on a monthly basis. During an extremely severe storm some weeks ago hundreds of kilos were washed up on the beach. A suspected shipwrecked yacht was assumed as the cause of the dumped cargo. No crew members were reported missing nor did they turn up alive and kicking. They just disappeared. However, the methods used go beyond anyone’s imagination. The most notorious plot that was uncovered happened just before Christmas in 2006.

Captain Juan Gomez, a Spanish Civil Guard in charge of one of the coastguard launches noticed a small craft adrift off the Cies Islands at the entrance to the Vigo bay. When they tied up alongside they realised that it was a small submarine. After towing it into one of the city shipyards for inspection they found that it was a home built model based on a design available on the Internet. This immediately aroused suspicion as similar vessels had been used by Colombian drug runners off the Florida coast since 2002. Weeks of investigation went by until a tip off led them to a large shed at the edge of a secluded part of the bay. What they found was a real Pa and Ma Kettle type workshop that under normal circumstances wouldn’t have aroused any suspicion of illicit activity. The local culprits, a father and son and six other helpers were finally arrested and brought before the judge. They were part of the Columbian mafia all right! Their ordeal had foundered during the secret trials in mid-ocean. They couldn’t stop the engines and sailed around in it until the gas ran out; later abandoning the poor old bucket hoping it would eventually sink. It didn’t!

The news hit the national press as yet another hilarious drug adventure that placed Galicia once again in the limelight as a haven for drug runners!

Will drugs eventually die a natural death? Will the kids, and others not so young stop being stupid and kick the habit? That is – in ‘ye olde money –is the $64,000 question!

© James Skinner February 2008.

It's a Mad World
James Skinner

how do we feel about what’s being going on and what lies in store for us in the coming year?

Read an extract of James Skinner's book here

The Goa File   Author: James G. Skinner
Paperback (pp: 395) ISBN: 978-81-8253-079-9
Availability: In Stock (Ships within 1 to 2 days)
Publisher:, Allahabad, India
Pub. Date: Jan 2007
James G. Skinner, as he is know to his friends in Vigo, Spain was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He is a retired telecommunications expert who has travelled the world over having worked for some of the greatest of todayıs conglomerates such as Cable & Wireless, US Sprint and British Telecom. Having lived in many different and disparate countries spread across several continents, his knowledge of and experience with people from different ethnic groups and social backgrounds is second to none. He is a regular writer ­ in Spanish ­ in the local papers of Galicia and is currently the Honorary British Consul in the region. (read more)

James Skinner is a journalist and commentator on contemporary Spanish affairs.

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