Drug trafficking is a business worth half a trillion dollars. To put it in perspective, that’s the kind of money an average American would make in 28 million years. And a significant percentage of that money comes from the cocaine trade. The interesting thing about this drug is that it’s made from the coca plant, which requires special conditions to grow. There are only a couple of places in the world suitable for its cultivation, and one of those in the Andes mountain range, which stretches across several South American countries, including Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia.
That’s why it’s not a surprise that those three countries account to more than 99% of the world’s production of cocaine. Thanks to the favorable weather conditions, as well as the lack of political will to deal with it, cultivating the coca plant and synthesizing cocaine from its leaves is not a big problem; the real trouble is how to get the product to the customers. Countries like the United States spend billions of dollars on preventing cocaine from crossing their borders, which is why the smugglers need to get creative to keep the trade going. So, let’s take a look at some of their most imaginative ways to get cocaine over the border!
In today’s drug business, Colombians are those who produce cocaine; Mexicans are the ones who transport it to the U.S. The problem is that moving the blow from South America by trucks is almost impossible. To do that, they would have to pass through Central America, where the width of the landmass is as narrow as 60 miles in some parts. This means that there are not many police-free roads that the trucks can take.
Sure, they might solve this problem by bribing the officials, but why waste the money when there’s a much simpler solution available? And that solution lies under the sea. Narco-submarines are the vessels used by the cartels to move cocaine without being noticed. According to the officials, the subs have been used by the smugglers since 2008. What makes them so great for this business is not just that they’re difficult to spot; it’s also the fact that they can carry a lot of coke. A drug-sub that was seized in 2015 has a cargo of 7.7 tons of cocaine onboard.
The main issue with drug-submarines is that they can sink. You need to be an expert to sail them properly. And because there aren’t many submarine captains out there on the job market, the cartels have to use makeshift submarine sailors. And obviously, that’s not the best solution.
The solution the narcos have come up is to use crewless submarines or torpedoes. There are several reasons why narco-torpedoes are superior to narco-submarines. First of all, they’re much safer to use. There’s no man inside who could get caught red-handed. Furthermore, because their capacity is lower than that of submarines, if one torpedo goes astray, the financial loss to the cartel won’t be too significant.
Back in the eighties, the easiest way to transport a tone of coke into the US was to take a small plane and fly it to Florida. But, over the years, air control has become better, and such a thing is no longer a possibility. You would have to be incredibly brave (or incredibly stupid) to try such a feat. If you get caught, you’re going to get into a lot of trouble. For instance, smuggling more than 150 kilos of cocaine is an offense that’s punished by life in prison in the state of Florida.
Because of all this, narcos have decided to use unmanned aircraft instead. Sure, drones can’t transport as much coke as planes would, but they’re almost impossible to detect. And because you can control them from a long distance, even if the US cops catch your drone, you’ll remain safe on the other side of the border.
One of the routes cocaine takes on its way to Europe from South America is through Africa. This isn’t a big surprise considering that to get to the shores of Italy or France; drug ships would need to go through the Strait of Gibraltar, which is as narrow as 9 miles at some points.
Drug traffickers like to avoid crowds, so rather than sailing through Gibraltar, they send their drug packages across the Sahara desert. And they do it by using camels! The reason? A camel can go over the entire desert without the need for any food and water. Even more importantly, if appropriately trained, a camel doesn’t need anyone to guide it. And if it gets caught, a camel won’t go to a camel court.
Fake Boobs & Butts
The so-called drug mules have been putting cocaine packages in all of their orifices, but since recently, they’ve started using surgery for this purpose. Last year, a guy traveling from Brazil to Portugal looked surprisingly bootylicious for his stature, which arouses suspicion among police offers. They decided to take a closer look of his buns only to find out they’re made out of coke.
A similar case happened in Germany, where a Colombian woman was caught smuggling a kilo of coke inside her fake boobs. How she was spotted is that the airport officials noticed fresh operation scars under her breasts. After a closer inspection, they discovered that cocaine was inserted in her breasts during a surgery that was done right before her trip to Europe.
Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman is credited for coming up with many inventions in the drug trafficking world. He’s basically Leonardo Da Vinci of the cocaine trade. In his over-three-decades-long career of a drug lord, El Chapo came up with some pretty creative ways to get cocaine from Mexico to the United States. One of those is using catapults. What his guys did is that they made catapults like the ones used by the ancient Greeks and Romans, and use them to chuck the cocaine boxes over the border.
A catapult can throw an eight-pound cocaine package as far as 1,500 feet, which is more than enough to avoid the border patrol, both on the Mexican and the American side. El Chapo might be in jail and will probably stay there for life, but his inventions might get an even more critical role in the drug-smuggling business in the upcoming years. If Trump manages to pull off his wall idea, cartels will need all their wits to outsmart the President. And narco catapults might become their most potent weapon.
In early 2018, the anti-smuggling agencies in Spain and Portugal managed to seize over 745 kilograms of cocaine which was hidden inside pineapples coming from South America. This isn’t a big surprise considering that this fruit is among the primary export commodities of Latin American countries. Costa Rica, for example, produces nearly 3 million tons of pineapple every year. In other news, cocaine smugglers were caught using frozen sharks and seafood to transport the white powder. Other types of food used for cocaine smuggling include bananas, pumpkins, rum cakes, coffee, etc.
Actually, there probably isn’t a single food item in the world that wasn’t at one point used, or at least considered, as a cocaine-smuggling tool. The reason why this is the case is that food can confuse drug-sniffing dogs. They have a sense of smell that’s one thousand times more sensitive than ours, which makes dogs real experts in figuring out who the smuggler is. Rather than putting a big bounty on a police dog’s head as they did in Colombia, Mexican cartels have decided to try to outsmart them by smuggling cocaine inside food items with odors that are either too attractive or too repulsive to dogs.
You probably know that Coca Cola started as cocaine-fused beverage back in the 19th century. What you might not know is that narco-traffickers are trying to get coca drinks back into fashion. Of course, without the blessing of the Coca Cola Company. What they’re doing is mixing cocaine with certain liquids to evade detection.
This way, they can cross the border, keeping bottles of seemingly-innocent fuzzy drink. And once they get inside the US, the cocaine is taken to makeshift labs where it’s extracted from the drink and turn to powder once again. The whole process is apparently pretty complicated, but that’s actually the main reason why the cartels love it – the DEA has no intention of wasting their time testing beverages that could prove to be precisely that, regular beverages.
The year 2018 was the year of the soccer World Cup, and the narcos decided to take advantage of the craze. They used replica soccer jerseys to smuggle cocaine. They did it by soaking the jerseys in liquid cocaine, then drying them for transport. Unfortunately for them, the Colombian police got ahold of one shipment, in which every shirt was soaked in an amount of cocaine that has the street value of about $35,000. Of course, nobody apart from the cartels, knows how many such shipments went unnoticed previously.
The obvious reasons why the cartels have decided to use this method to bring the product to the end customers is that it’s a real challenge for the cops to spot it. And even if a drug-sniffing canine figures out there’s something wrong going on there; it takes a big lab work to prove cocaine is actually in there. And the final reason why cartels love using cocaine-impregnated clothes is that they can carry over a great deal of the white powder. The amount of cocaine that can be smuggled this way can be nearly one-fifth of the total weight of the garments. In layman’s terms, a pair of jeans that weighs 15 ounces potentially have three ounces of pure coke in its fabric.
Mexican cartels believe that there’s safety in numbers. That’s why they’re sending a massive number of smugglers across the border every day, each carrying only a small amount of coke with them. According to DEA estimates, more than 60% of all cocaine in the US has gotten there this way. And this shouldn’t be a big surprise for you if you know that the US-Mexico border is the most frequently crossed border on Earth, with about 350 million legal crossings every year.
More than half of those border crossings are those heading from Mexico to the United States. And with so many people crossing the border, it’s practically impossible to stop cocaine from getting over. Currently, the main route of land-based cocaine trafficking is through Arizona, a state that shares a 1,900-mile-long border with Mexico. On the other side of the border are Mexican states of Sonora and Chihuahua, both controlled by the infamous Sinaloa Cartel, one of the leading players in the ongoing Mexican Drug War, which has claimed more than 115,000 lives in the past 12 years.