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Tiny African Country Is Big Drug Hub

Geography and corruption make Guinea Bisseau ideal for South American traffickers.

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The coastal country is ravaged by corruption.
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By McCarton Ackerman

05/14/12

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With a population of just over 1.5 million, the African nation of Guinea Bissau is known as one of the smallest and poorest countries in the world. It's also becoming a crucial hub for South American drug traffickers, with an estimated few hundred million dollars-worth being transported from South America to Europe through the country each year. A close proximity to Brazil—just a quick four-hour flight—makes it an ideal location; plus, there are dozens of unpopulated islands for drug-bearing planes to land, and an absence of Western police agencies. And even if a shipment is detected, police intervention is nonexistent because the country’s military is apparently deeply involved in the drug trade. “All the problems in Guinea Bissau are because of drug trafficking,” says Lucinda Gomes Barbosa, the former head of the country’s anti-narcotic police, who resigned last year. “There are people in high positions in government who are benefiting from this. They only think about money. They fight each other so that the drug trafficking can continue and they don’t think about the problems that it creates in the country.” Barbosa adds that she unsuccessfully tried to arrest drug traffickers on three occasions in 2008 and that the few high-ranking officials who have fought corruption are often threatened. The drug trade in Guinea Bissau is relatively new; less than one ton of cocaine was seized per year on average prior to 2005. But the UN estimates that 25% of Europe’s cocaine came via West Africa in 2007.

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