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Peru's Cocaine Trail

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Peru's anti-drug squad attacked illegal cocaine production in the amazonian jungle. —Yeah. [explosion] They blow craters along the airstrips used by drug traffickers. [explosion] It's noisy, it's dramatic, but is it effective? Increasing numbers of desperate Europeans are prepared to take the risk of smuggling cocaine out of Peru. You lose your family, you lose friends, you lose your life. And thousands of desperate people in Peru depend on cocaine production to survive. I can earn enough to support the family and buy all I need. The Peruvian government is spending millions of dollars on eradication. [blast] But, is this the way to tackle the problem? This is not a military problem. We need to talk in economic-social terms. [♪ music ♪] [helicopter noise] The Palcazu valley in the amazon jungle, where every clearing is devoted to the growth of the coca plant. Peru now grows more coca leave than any other country in the world, producing hundreds of tons of cocaine a year for export. The anti-drugs police squad arrive as part of the government eradication program. They start pulling the roots from the rich soil. The coca is a hardy plant which, left to grow, produces four crops a year. It provides work and money for the locals here, where there's little else. The workers are exploited in the coca fields. They are paid minimum wages. The ones that make a real profit are traffickers. The coca workers have fled by now, so why do the eradicators need guns? There are still drug trafficking organisations in this area, and you must bear in mind that they have weapons, and the power to attack our eradicators. That's the main reason why the eradicators need protection. The team move on to makeshift factories, hidden in the thick jungle. Equipped with all the ingredients for cocaine production. The maceration pits are filled with dried coca leaves, water, petrol and acid, and crushed by foot to make coca paste. We've found that some traffickers take advantage of local children and make them work stamping on leaves. We find this hard to understand. Finally they add acetone and sulphuric acid to obtain cocaine chlorodite. The cocaine in white powder form ready for export. We believe that drugs from Peru are entering the United Kingdom. Recently we seized a large shipment on its way to Lithuania. More than 354 kilos of cocaine. This is evidence that drugs from Peru are in fact making their way into Europe and Asia. Alongside the noxious ingredients there's evidence of a hastily abandoned camp, suggesting there were fourteen locals working in dangerous and uncomfortable conditions. Nonetheless, they can earn more here than they'd get from farming any other crop. But they won't be coming back. [blast] The drug is transported over land to the rivers where it's loaded onto boats, and taken to a network of illegal airstrips, built along the banks of the rivers, like the one here on the right. Light aircraft which can carry up to four hundred kilos of cocaine at a time, come from neighboring Bolivia to collect it. A small aeroplane takes three and a half hours to fly from Pando in Bolivia to here in Palcazu. This cocaine has two destinations: Firstly Brazil, with a population of more than 190 million. and which has become one of the main consumers of crack. But a lot of the cocaine produced not only in Peru but also in Colombia and Bolivia, is destined for Europe. The pilots who land the planes here at night are set to earn millions of dollars. But the team now prepare to blow craters along the runway, to prevent them from using this one again, for now. [blast] [blast] It's noisy, it's dramatic, but is it effective? For every one narco-airstrip, as they're called here, that is destroyed by the Peruvian police there are dozens more in the area which remain operational. And the drug teams will be back here to repair it, and it will take only a few weeks to do that, and to the airstrip to be put back into use. The anti-drugs squad are tackling a fraction of the problem, fractions of strength of the drug barons in the country, but there are areas where coca is grown in Peru where the squad can't even enter. There's no doubt about the commitment and bravery of these men, but they're not stopping the flow of cocaine out of this region. [plane noise] Several times a day scheduled flights from the coca growing areas in the North land five hundred kilometres to the South, in the country's capital Lima. A passenger disembarks at the domestic terminal, and checks in for an international flight to Madrid. The dogs are on patrol tonight. Four kilos of cocaine are found in the passenger's case. It's clear that it had been packed by experts. The 25 year old Spaniard is arrested. He says he was recruited in Amsterdam, and had been promised 13 thousand dollars, if he'd got through. The drug would have sold for 50 times that amount on the streets of Madrid. It was a moment of madness, he tells me. I'd lost my job and I needed the money, but I now face years in jail. The police here admit that 90 percent of the drug mules living Peru get away with it. The odds are good, but if you get caught, there's the prospect of an up to 15 year jail sentence. Many desperate Europeans are taking the risk. With 50% unemployment among the young in some areas of Spain, Spaniards top the list of Europeans who were arrested at Lima airport last year. Visiting day at Chorrillos prison in Lima, where the majority of prisoners are being held for drug related crime. There are a lot of foreigners here from many countries, there are Brazilians, English, French, Germans. They come from every country. Conditions are tough, specially for foreigners who don't have family to bring them food, medicine, and even clean water. Two British girls, Makayla Connelly and Melissa Reed, are among the present prison population. They were arrested at Lima airport in August carrying 11 kilos of cocaine. They're currently in one of the worst prisons in Peru, according to another drug mule. It's very thin, crammed, you know. You have no air to breath there, really. You feel like a rat in a cage, it's very hard for these girls. Nicole is a hairdresser from Dortmund in Germany, who's currently living in a convent in Lima, and helping with charitable work here. She served her prison term but can't go back home, because she can't afford to pay the outstanding fine demanded by the courts. Her life went wrong, she says, after she had a nervous breakdown in Germany, and fell badly into debt. Before in my country a little bit problems with money, and so I wanted to earn money "rapido", fast and easily. How much were you promised? How much were you going to earn for it? 10 thousand euros, for normally 2 kilos. I never know I had 3 kilos on my body. I had suits, swimming suits for water ski, and inside from the suits, he was all over with drugs, packs of cocaine. He touched me and, yeah. And felt something. Yeah, of course. And then. And then she brings me in the arrest in the airport. He tastes and he come a blue stick, and it was cocaine, and I said, yes, I have cocaine. Nicole's smuggling method was so amateurish, that it could be that she was set up. Another mule, Gavin from South Africa, has also served his prison term. But with no means of supporting himself, let alone buying a ticket back home, he's been living rough on the beach. Thinking back to the policeman who arrested him, he believes that he was definitely set up. And he took out a list and said, "this lady is traveling at certain an certain time and the flight leaves, this one this one." It was a list of four people, and he said, "every single one of them will be carrying drugs". So they know beforehand, who is and who isn't a suspect. I was a small fish. They were waiting for me. And I noticed from many people that have been at court for narco-trafficking, they let the small fish get caught on purpose to distract the officials, so that the guy that's got a large amount of drugs, he gets through. Gavin claims he fell into the trap because he was desperate. His wife had died and he needed money to educate his daughter, when he was approached by a drug trafficker. He said "Oh, quick money. No problem. You go on a working holiday. One week, you'll be back, you'll have no more problems." They were going to pay me 10 thousand dollars, U.S. I thought, well, what have I got to lose? He got 4 years in jail followed by a year living rough, in which time he says he has learned a lot about how the drug barons dominate this country. Everything is an inside job. They've got people in the police, they've got people at the airports, they've got people in organized crime. All of them are on the payroll. Drugs is the economy of this country. Construction and corruption are everywhere in Peru today and people here tell you, the two activities are intertwined. The building industry is just one of the businesses used by the drug barons to launder money with impunity. You don't get the violence in the streets of Lima, compared with the cities of Colombia or Mexico. I asked the man who used to be in charge of the anti-drugs program here: why? We solve the things not with lead but with silver. In Colombia maybe things are sorted out in another way, but in Peru, people do business. Police does business. Prosecutors does business, politicians as well. So, if you are rich enough in order to avoid a prison, it could be possible. And the corruption here reaches to the very top according to one of Peru's most senior judges. Corruption works in many ways. First of all, it stops us from investigating high profile people because of the use of political, economic and social power. It's usually assumed that the person taking money is corrupt and the one giving it is corrupt. But if you do nothing that is also corruption. It means not doing what should be done. The government would argue that this is what they're doing. High profile eradication programs which journalists are invited to film. Their critics say that tackling the problem of drugs in Peru like a military operation, is not working. One of the few things that we have learned in the last 30 years, is that this can't be understood as a war. Ricardo Soberon was fired from his job as the country's drugs chief because he claims the government don't want to hear what he has to say. Besides the farm, a kilo of pure cocaine costs 800 dollars. When that same kilo arrives to Lima, it costs 2500, 3000 dollars. When that same kilo arrives, let's say to London, it will cost 25,000 pounds. And if you understand that that kilo will convert immediately in 2, you will have 50,000 pounds. We need to talk in economic social terms. For those who have been excluded the drug business is the way of being part of the globalized economy in the world. The town of Constitucion in the coca growing area. A road and bridge were built here when the idea was to make this town, in the middle of the amazonian jungle, the capital of Peru. But the idea didn't catch on. Instead the drug mafias poured across the bridge, and made this their capital. At night the booming town has the full complement of night clubs and bars, expected of a drug fueled economy. Their clients are the men who grow the coca leaf, manufacture cocaine and build the jungle airstrips. No wonder the girls tell you: "Business is good". They give us presents and invite us out to eat, a bit of money to help us survive. The police don't pay us as much. But Carlos Chacon, an ecologist and poet, remembers with nostalgia the paradise he found when he moved here thirty years ago, before the drug barons, a memory reflected in his poetry. Refuge of my life, Land that I love, Beloved jungle, for fools gold they destroy you, my heart bleeds, I feel sadness. He took me to the cemetery and lamented over the number of recent dead. In the last few years there's been an average of one death a week, victims of the drug trade and most of them are buried in this new cemetery. The dead, he says, are due to locals fighting for their share of the drugs business. Now we have a generation of young people who don't know what to do. They finish high school and they see others buy things like motorbikes and cars, and have fun, and it looks like a good alternative. I think that people do it to survive. What else can they do with no other way to earn a living. Where local people are excluded from the drugs business, you'll hear only complaints. Matilda Ramirez, a small farmer living on the outskirts of the town, was forced by the eradication program to give up growing the coca leaf. No I have to grow cocoa beans and bananas but they don't pay. They don't bring in any money, you get very little per kilo. I have a son at school, and they ask us for a contribution. That's why people grow coca, so we can send our children to school and pay the fees and the extras. We don't make enough money to support the family. No wonder so many farmers who've had their plants torn out moved to the areas where the eradicators can't reach them in order to plant the coca leaf again. Those who argue that eradication is not working say that cocaine production can only be tackled by helping the small farmer to not grow coca. The military style eradication operation gets four times as much money as that given to farmers to develop alternative crops. I think that we should think on paying directly to them for every single gram of cocaine that is not produced by them. A kind of health preventive tax that should be payed by European countries and that will significantly improve the livelihood of thousands of peasants that are now involved in this economy. We need to give them fair prices for their cocoa, their coffee, and any other legal agriculture that is done in this difficult territory. In the absence of such an agreement between Peru and the drug consuming nations of Europe, the drugs trade looks set to continue and even flourish. More foreign mules are entering the country and the unlucky ones will end up in prison. The two British girls, Melissa Reed and Makayla Connelly, have been in jail for four months now, awaiting a trial. After their latest court appearance, their lawyer said they might be offered a reduced term if they give the police information about those who sent them here. Nicole, the former drug mule, advises them not to. This is a very, very dangerous business. He can kill me in the jail, so I never said their names, I never say anything, I say it's my fault, it's my things, yeah? And all the girls have to do this, why? It's very dangerous, you say the name and your sentence don't go less when you say something, it's a lie. You lose your family, you lose friends, you lose your life, you lose all. And the men and the women who are sending you here, they are not interested of you. Don't do it. I mean, this was my first time and my last time. That amount of money cannot buy your freedom. I've lost five years of my life here in Peru. Now it's four, my four Christmas here, and before I think, when I come out, yes I want to be with my family in this Christmas, but don't. I cannot say what day I can go home. Nicole and Gavin may not have benefited from the drug business, but too many people in and outside the country now depend on the coca leaf of Peru for there to be much prospect of an end to the trade in cocaine. Even a senior police officer here has admitted that trying to stop cocaine production with helicopters and explosives is like trying to catch the wind.

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Duration: 25 minutes and 39 seconds
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Posted by: dave73085 on Nov 10, 2015

Peru's Cocaine Trail

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