Spain Fights to Lose Status as Drug Gateway
By Dialogo April 24, 2013
Spain, the main gateway into Europe for cocaine and hashish, has stepped up the fight against drug trafficking by rings which are shifting their tactics to keep their access to the lucrative European market.
“We are winning battles but it will be difficult to win the war,” said José Antonio Rodríguez, head of the anti-cocaine squad of the Spanish National Police Force’s anti-drug unit.
“Traffickers have money on their side, a lack of scruples and they can develop their activities without limit.”
Spain’s proximity to Morocco and its easy access to the Atlantic Ocean make it “a natural entry point for drug shipments for all of Europe,” said Rodríguez.
Cocaine arrives in Spain from Latin America in Galicia, a northwestern region whose rugged coastline is dotted with coves and inlets, and in the southern port of Cadiz, and is then shipped overland by truck to France, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands.
Spain seized 20.7 tons of cocaine last year, 24.9 percent more than in the previous year, and 325.5 tons of hashish, down 8.5 percent from 2011, Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez-Diaz said on April 18.
That represents 41.21 percent of the total amount of cocaine which was seized in Europe last year and 73.69 percent of the hashish, according to the minister.
A record 49.65 tons of cocaine was seized in Spain in 2006.
“Since then we have observed a clear downwards trend, which may be explained by changes in international trafficking routes,” the Spanish Police wrote in a report last year.
A multiplication of police operations against drug trafficking in Galicia has diverted cocaine smugglers to the south of Europe, said Susanne Gratius, an analyst with FRIDE, a think tank specializing in European affairs, who wrote a report about the fight against drug trafficking for the European Parliament.
“Very often drugs no longer arrive directly from Latin America, instead they pass through Africa using the traditional routes for hashish trafficking,” she said.
Ghana, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria and Senegal are countries used by traffickers to get cocaine from Latin America to Spain, she added.
Latin American drug rings can rely on the help of strong local networks in Africa to help move their narcotics to Europe, said Rodríguez.
“We have found that groups in the region such as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb cooperate with them and get paid to transport drugs to North Africa,” he said.
The make-up of drug rings sending cocaine to Spain has changed as well.
Colombian groups which dominated the trade in the 1980s have given way bit by bit to Mexican cartels, said Gratius.
Drug traffickers’ interest in Europe has increased because demand from the continent for cocaine is growing, she added.
Over the past decade the number of cocaine consumers in Europe has doubled while demand for the drug has plunged by 33 percent in the United States, she said.
In response, European nations have reinforced regional cooperation as well as their cooperation with police forces in Latin America to stop the flow of cocaine.
Hiding cocaine in banana shipments remains one of the favorite tactics used by traffickers.