Pubdate: Sat, 1 Dec 2007
Source: Irish Independent (Ireland)
Copyright: Independent Newspapers (Ireland) Ltd
Author: John Meagher
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


It's a long way from Latin America to the south east of Ireland. But
money talks -- and dirty drug money talks loudest. John Meagher
reports on the week a cocaine cargo wreaked havoc in Waterford

Kevin Doyle had more reason than most to look forward to the birthday
party last Saturday night. Just weeks previously, the 21-year-old
Waterford man had been given the all-clear in his battle with cancer.
He was now approaching life with a renewed vigour and the opportunity
to let his hair down at a 21st house party in the city's Ballybeg
Square estate had great appeal.

His mother, Breda, dropped him into town in the early evening and,
together with a bunch of friends, he visited a number of pubs before
turning up at the party late on Saturday night. As inhibitions lowered
and the drink flowed, cocaine materialised.

At 5am, Breda received a call from another son to say Kevin was in a
coma in Waterford Regional Hospital. He had suffered seizures and
heart palpitations after apparently eating cocaine that had been too
damp to snort.

The party was held in the family home of Mark Grey and up to 30 young
men had attended, including Mark's 23-year-old brother John. Like
Kevin Doyle, he too would become a casualty of the cocaine stash that
had done the rounds that night. A head and shoulders photo of him in a
hospital bed, with a catheter inserted in his nose, would provide a
sobering anti-cocaine message in the newspapers this week.

"Drugs run this town," his mother, Betty, said two days after the
party. "I don't condone drugs. John took them -- that's it. He paid
the consequences. But he didn't deserve to be in a coma."

In Bolivia, Seberino Marquina is one of the country's 100,000 coca
leaf growers. He has 24 acres of land in Capare -- one of Bolivia's
top coca growing districts -- and has harvested the crop for the past
30 years.

Last year, Bolivian army troops descended on the 55-year-old's farm
and set about destroying his crop. One by one, and in view of the New
York Times journalist who had come to report on how the country was
dealing with the crop that produces cocaine, they ripped his coca
bushes from the ground.

It was an attempt from Boliva's then government to wage war against
the country's cocaine traffickers by destroying the raw material of
the drug that's known by a variety of sobriquets in the West. But
weeks later, a new Bolivian president and a former coca grower, Evo
Morales, was installed and the programme was abandoned.

Farmers like Seberino Marquina were permitted to continue growing
coca, and the production of this plant is vitally important for rural
residents of the poorest country in South America.

It is a long way from Waterford to Bolivia and from Kevin Doyle and
John Grey to Seberino Marquina -- but the cocaine that has threatened
the lives of these two young men is likely to have been culled from
crops grown legally by farmers like Marquina in Bolivia. And if not
Bolivia, then Colombia or Peru -- the other major coca-growing nations
in that corner of South America.

Some of the leaves they cultivate are exported legally for bona fide
use as a food additive, for the production of herbal teas and as an
ingredient in some cosmetics. But the vast bulk of the coca leaves
harvested fuel the multi-billion dollar a year cocaine trade. Much of
the raw cocaine taken from the leaves is extracted and produced in
neighbouring Colombia and shipped worldwide.

Smuggling large quantities of cocaine from these countries to Ireland
may be a logistical nightmare, but it's done frequently and
efficiently. With up to 10 per cent of Irish adults claiming to be
cocaine users, demand is high and the profit margins to be made for
organised gangs is astronomical.

The cocaine trail from Capare, Bolivia, to Ballybeg, Waterford is a
lengthy, intricate one involving a series of countries, thousands of
miles at sea and possibly air and a great deal of money changing hands
between international drug syndicates.

President Morales faces an uphill battle if he is to control Bolivia's
illegal coca trade. Much of it is controlled by the Bolivian mafia who
extract cocaine from the harvest or -- more often -- transport the
crop en masse to Colombia where 80 per cent of the world's pure
cocaine is produced.

Colombia has long been home to the world's largest cocaine smuggling
operations and it has been estimated that dealers in the South
American country can generate up to $10 billion a year by shipping
drugs to the US and Europe. Previously, much of the large consignment
of cocaine destined for Europe was routed through the Caribbean before
being shipped on to Morocco and finally Europe. But with Caribbean and
Moroccan authorities cracking down heavily on the illegal trade, canny
traffickers have had to look elsewhere.

Earlier this year, a UN report highlighted the use of West African
countries such as Senegal as a stopping off point for large quantities
of cocaine to be moved to smaller vessels bound for Europe. The
International Narcotics Control Board, which polices UN drugs laws,
said drug-trafficking networks were using west Africa as a transit
area for smuggling South American cocaine. "The trafficking in cocaine
in Africa is fuelled by rising demand, and abuse of, cocaine in
Europe," according to the report. "Both the number of couriers
apprehended and the volume of bulk seizures in Africa has increased

Gardai and Customs have confirmed that this route has contributed to
the massive increase in cocaine seizures in Ireland in the last two

According to Det Super Colm Fetherstone from the National Drugs Unit,
resourceful traffickers are taking advantage of more lax customs
controls in west Africa before moving their goods by sea into the
lucrative European market. "Once a specific port starts to put more
stringent checks in place, the traffickers go somewhere else. West
Africa is definitely an option for some of the gangs, but a lot of
cocaine that comes into this country is originally shipped from
Colombia into Spain. Some is sent via Rotterdam, the biggest, busiest
port in the world. Just think of all the cargo that goes through that
port every day. It's not surprising that cocaine can get through."

Dr Michael Mulqueen, who lectures in UCC's faculty of politics and
international relations and who has recently conducted a major study
on Irish national security, believes Ireland is especially susceptible
to cocaine traffickers. "As an island nation, with thousands of miles
of coastline, drugs can be smuggled quite easily into the country," he
says. "There are only eight patrol boats in the Irish navy and they
have to cover a huge marine area to the south and west of the country.
We're talking about an area that's about 250,000 square kilometres in
size -- it's not surprising that consignments can get through. And for
drug traffickers, maritime channels are far less risky than trying to
smuggle cocaine by air."

In July, a gang comprising Irish and UK criminals failed in their
attempts to smuggle cocaine with a street value of 100 million into
Ireland through the west Cork coast after the dinghy they were
travelling in capsized. The smugglers had apparently overloaded the
boat with packets of cocaine, causing the vessel to sink. It would be
the biggest offshore drug haul in Irish history. Irish-born drug
trafficker Brian Wright -- known as 'The Milkman' because he has
always delivered -- is thought to have been behind the failed
operation. A leading figure in the UK cocaine world, he and rival
gangs are understood to have used Ireland in the past to smuggle drugs
destined for the British market.

"Criminals are using the Irish coastline to get into Europe because it
is regarded as a soft touch," according to one top-level security
expert. "The smugglers see that we have a low density of population
compared to other countries, and the security on the coast is sparse.
So they land drugs here.

"Once drugs are landed ashore in Ireland, it is easy to move them
without raising suspicions. They can be put in containers and sent on
to Britain. Material coming from Ireland is not usually regarded as
high-risk cargo."

But with Ireland's cocaine use estimated to be the highest per-capita
in the world along with that of Colombia, demand is unlikely to die

"Cocaine really took off in Ireland about seven years ago," says
Stephen Rowan or the Dublin-based Rutland Centre, one of the country's
leading addiction treatment centres. "And its use is extremely
widespread now. As the economy has prospered so has the lot of the
drugs gangs who have been very keen to feed a middle class who see it
as a glamour drug. The majority of people don't get addicted to it but
those that do, will go to extraordinary lengths to feed their habit.
They might go through 1,000 of cocaine in a couple of days and to
pay for that they will start dealing it.

"When people say that cocaine is readily available in all parts of the
country, that's why: with more and more dependent on it, greater
numbers will feel forced into dealing. It's a vicious circle."

And it's one that came to a head last Saturday night in a nondescript
Waterford housing estate.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake