It is not known how much of a role the illegal
international drug trade had in boosting tensions between Guinea-Bissau's president
and the military before Sunday's and Monday's assassinations of General Batista
Tagme Na Waie and President Joao Bernardo Vieira. Although the gunfire and bombing in the
capital Bissau have forced new figures to replace the president and the army
chief of staff, there is a sense of relief that the overnight developments did
not produce a full-fledged coup d'etat. But
last Friday in its annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, the
US State Department cited increased drug trafficking in Guinea-Bissau and its
vulnerability to money laundering and financial crime as sources of systemic
report says, "Drug traffickers transiting between Latin
America and Europe have increased their use of the country. Guinea-Bissau is
often the placement point for proceeds from drug payoffs, theft of foreign aid,
and corrupt diversion of oil and other state resources headed for investment
abroad." Douglas Farah is a Washington, DC–based
consultant on international drug trafficking issues. He points out that Bissau and other West African countries have fallen prey to hostile
Latin American drug lords, who are using Africa's Atlantic coast airstrips as
transit points for smuggling cocaine to Europe.
is not an isolated case any longer, unfortunately in West Africa. You have Guinea-Conakry. You have Sierra Leone. You have Liberia. You certainly have Nigeria, all major transit
points for drugs moving into Europe and into other markets in Africa itself,"
says that this week's flare-up and assassinations in Bissau should signal other
countries in the neighborhood that when resource-weak governments grow
vulnerable and dependent on funding from outside kingpins, they endanger the
safety and security of their own citizens.
should be a lesson or a warning to other African states, where the drug
trafficking trade has penetrated so deeply that if you don't eradicate this
type of corruption, this inflow of illicit funds that completely undermines
already weak states, you can end up very easily down the road to widespread
assassinations, to unredeemable corruption.
I think if you see competent states like Mexico and Colombia almost
caving when the drug traffickers move in there in a serious way and concentrate
on them, those tiny countries with no functioning institutions are far more
challenged. And if they don't unite to
take this on, I think Guinea-Bissau will be the first of many," he cautioned.
West African landing strips have opened a "new avenue" of wealth for drug
suppliers from the Caribbean to reach their lucrative markets in Europe, Douglas
Farah believes that European governments need to become more deeply engaged in
stopping the three-way commerce.
essentially a European problem now because those drugs are not going to the
United States. They're going to
Europe. And Europe has to step up and
take a much more active and aggressive role if they want to control that avenue
of entrance into their continent," he says.
believes that European governments need to acknowledge that their continent's
appetite for a thriving drug market is spurring the Latin American penetration
of the transatlantic trade.
a testament to how lucrative the traffic is.
If you still make an enormous profit going from Latin America to West
Africa and then north to Europe, I think it's a whole new route that the law
enforcement community in the European countries were not thinking about and
were not dealing with, and as water runs downhill to the easiest possible
terrain, that's how drug trafficking will move into Europe, in the US markets,
or wherever the new market exists. And
so they will find the seams in the global
structure and move there. And
we're always playing catch-up with them," Farah pointed out.
urges Guinea-Bissau's former colonial ruler Portugal and other European
countries to become more engaged in trying to stem the drug cartel's African
transit operations. Regrettably, Farah says he does not put much hope in
Africa's regional and continent-wide bodies like ECOWAS and the African Union taking
similar action any time soon.
think that they're overwhelmed. I don't
think that they've shown any will to take any action in the best of
circumstances. And I think in this
circumstance, where they're overwhelmed with everything else and already imbued
in a culture of corruption and government weakness that there is any likelihood
that they will take any significant action," he said.
the past three or four months, the US government has stepped up its efforts to
curb the drug trade from Central and South America. Farah cites as the principal reason for this
Washington's desire to stop enriching the Latin American cartels "that are of
great concern to the United States." He observes that the United States does have allies in
Africa who are working to rid the continent of what he calls helpless
"narco-states" like Guinea-Bissau, but those partners are in the minority.
"I think there are elements in almost
every country, good people and uncorrupted people who are fighting uphill
battles to stem the tide. But I don't
think that there has been a systematic, organized regional response to this,
and I doubt there will be simply because the corruption is so great there," he