In Route of Evil How a Tiny West African Nation Became a Key Smuggling Hub For Colombian Cocaine, and the Price It Is Paying, Kevin Sullivan of the Washington Post tells us how Columbian cocaine dealers are taking over a small impoverished country on the west coast of Africa. So far there does not seem to be any help in sight.

Guinea-Bissau, one of the world’s poorest nations, has become a major transshipment hub and the epicenter in Africa for the cocaine trade, according to U.S., European and U.N. officials. The shift demonstrates how the flow of drugs adapts not only to law enforcement pressure but also to the forces of global economics.

Officials said some of the world’s richest criminal gangs are exploiting barely functioning countries such as Guinea-Bissau, which has 63 federal police officers, no prison and a population that still lives largely in thatched-roof homes on dirt roads with no electricity or running water.

“West Africa is under attack,” said Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, who recently visited Guinea-Bissau and concluded that it is so overrun by the cocaine trade that it could become Africa’s first “narco-state.”

The Colombian cartels are responding to the pressure for cocaine in nations such as Britain, Spain and Italy, where demand is soaring as the U.S. market has leveled off, officials said.

Costa described the strong currencies in Europe, where cocaine sells for twice as much as in the United States, as “a magnet” for the cartels. Police raids in Colombia are increasingly turning up suitcases full of euros instead of the traditional dollars.

… the country’s 1.5 million people are suffering because of global currency fluctuations and because European “bankers and models want to snort …

“This isn’t even our problem — we do not produce cocaine here, but it is destroying our future,” said Lucinda Barbosa, chief of the judicial police in the former Portuguese colony.

… the national budget of Guinea-Bissau is roughly equal to the wholesale value in Europe of 2 1/2 tons of cocaine.

… its main attractions for the cartels are its weak government and coastal waters dotted with scores of uninhabited islands.

“The traffickers have a paradise here,” said Constantino Correia, a top Justice Ministry official who is coordinating the government’s efforts against the traffickers.

“Justice does not work. The police do not work,” he said. “A place where criminals can do whatever they want is not a state. It is chaos.”

Without computers or other investigative tools, police have no way of telling which of the foreign “businessmen” in Bissau might be smuggling drugs. “It’s a war without faces or borders,” Correia said.

The Caretaker at the African Loft has written about the plight of Guinea-Bissau:

Guinea Bissau: The First African Narco-state?


Guinea-Bissau Battles Drug Barons with Little Hope

Guinea-Bissau desparately needs help. So far there is no sign of any effective assistance.


Africa Command is a headquarters staff whose mission entails coordinating the kind of support that will enable African governments and existing regional organizations, such as the African Standby Force, to have greater capacity to provide security and respond in times of need.

Guinea-Bissau is in great need. Security there has been completely destroyed. When the APS was touring West Africa and the Gulf of Guinea, there was no mention of Guinea Bissau. There is no talk I have heard or read anywhere of helping Guinea-Bissau. Without help, the drug smuggling will escalate and spread.

There is one US program connected with AFRICOM that might help the government of Guinea-Bissau. That is the African Coastal and Border Security Program (ACBS Program) However, the Bush government did not any request funding for it in the current budget request. It got about $4 million in FY2006 and the same in FY2007. But no funding was requested for FY 2008.

As described by Daniel Volman:

African Coastal and Border Security Program (ACBS Program)
This program provides specialized equipment (such as patrol vessels and vehicles, communications equipment, night vision devices, and electronic monitors and sensors) to African countries to improve their ability to patrol and defend their own coastal waters and borders from terrorist operations, smuggling, and other illicit activities. In some cases, airborne surveillance and intelligence training also may be provided. In FY 2006, the ACBS Program received nearly $4 million in FMF funding, and Bush administration requested $4 million in FMF funding for the program in FY 2007. No dedicated funding was requested for FY 2008, but the program may be revived in the future.

I don’t quite know why Guinea-Bissau is being ignored. Is it just ignorance and neglect, a trademark of the Bush administration. The US certainly knows what is going on in Columbia. Of course this cocaine is going to Europe. Would the US prefer a “failed state” in Guinea-Bissau, providing a chance to intervene? In that case, would it help if the problem spreads first, to give more excuses for intervention in more places. Does Guinea-Bissau’s lack of oil make it lack interest for the US.

In general, I suspect countries would be far better off if AFRICOM just left them alone. But if it is capable of actually being constructive, this would be the opportunity to demonstrate all the positive rhetoric has some meaning.