The Venezuela-African connection


There was little for the investigators to go on. The remains of the plane's skeleton, smouldering on a remote airstrip in the Sahara desert, revealed few clues.

Even now, more than two weeks after the Boeing 727 was found in Mali, west Africa, the cause of the plane's demise has yet to be revealed, triggering questions about whether it really crashed or was torched to destroy evidence. The one thing on which investigators agree is that the cargo plane had been used to transport cocaine into Africa from Latin America, probably Venezuela, that was bound for the streets of Europe.

The find is being seen as significant by US and European intelligence agencies, which believe the traffickers are using a corridor running through several central-north African states controlled by terrorist networks to channel drugs to western Europe.

From west African coastal states such as Guinea-Bissau the drugs pass through Mauritania, Mali and Niger before ending up in Libya or Egypt. From there, law enforcement officials suspect the drugs are hidden in containers on board cargo ships, which are less likely to be searched than those from Latin America.

An increasing concern is that the west African coastal states are now becoming more than simply import hubs. In the past few months several laboratories used to produce cocaine hydrochloride, the finished product, from cocaine paste have been discovered in Guinea-Bissau's neighbour, Guinea, along with machines that can be used to make ecstasy pills.


Until the discovery of the plane, it had been assumed that most of the cocaine transported from west Africa was in small planes or boats. But, as Alexandre Schmidt from the UN drugs agency acknowledged, the size of the destroyed plane was "a complete surprise". Sources suggest the Boeing was likely to have been carrying between two and three tonnes of cocaine – a huge amount given that the UN estimates that 250 tonnes of cocaine enters western Europe annually.

Intelligence agencies are studying claims that the airstrip in Mali is under the control of one of al-Qaida's most powerful franchises, raising concerns that Africa's burgeoning role in the cocaine trade is now funding terrorism.


It is not only al-Qaida that may be involved. A briefing prepared for the US Congress speculated that west Africa's substantial Lebanese trading community – strong supporters of Hezbollah – have been buying the drug from the paramilitary group Farc, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.


I think FARC is having to diversify because of the pressure on them by the Colombian government with the help of the US. It is also one of the reasons Chavez has been so opposed to the US assistance to Colombia in going after the drug runners who are transiting through Venezuela.

This African connection suggest it is becoming more pervasive and the Africans are open to the corruption that follows the drug trade. The Islamic religious bigots like al Qaeda and Hezballah are involved show their desperation for money and their utter lack of morals.


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