Friday, February 15, 2008

Finding the White Lobster

"People here now go beachcombing for miles, they walk until they find packets. Even the lobster fisherman now go out with the pretence of fishing but really they are looking for la langosta blanca - the white lobster."

Take a look at how the War on Drugs is going. There is so much money involved that a whole population finds prosperity in what is tossed overboard on the way to market.

At first glance, Bluefields in Nicaragua looks like any other rum-soaked, Rastafarian-packed, hammock-infested Caribbean paradise. But Bluefields has a secret.

People here don't have to work. Every week, sometimes every day, 35kg sacks of cocaine drift in from the sea. The economy of this entire town of 50,000 tranquil souls is addicted to cocaine.

Bluefields is a creation of the gods of geography. Located halfway between the cocaine labs of Colombia and the 300 million noses of the United States, Bluefields is ground zero for cocaine transportation. Nicaraguan waters are near Colombian territorial limits, making the area extremely popular with cocaine smugglers using very small, very fast fishing boats.
The US military calls them "go fast boats", which is a bureaucratic way of describing these mini-water-rockets. Typically these 12m boats have 800 horsepower of outboard motors bolted to the stern. A Porsche 911 Turbo, by comparison, has 485 horsepower.

While they are very fast, they are also very visible to the array of radars set up by roaming US spy planes, Coastguard cutters and helicopters which regularly monitor the speeding cocaine traffickers.

"With night vision equipment, I have seen a lit cigarette from two miles," a US Navy pilot said. "Or the back light from their GPS screen? It looks like a billboard."

When the Americans get close, the traffickers toss the cocaine overboard, both to eliminate evidence and lighten their load in an escape attempt.

"They throw most of it off," says a Lt Commander in the US Coastguard. "I have been on four interdictions and we have confiscated about 6000 pounds [2720kg] of cocaine, and I'd say equal that much was dumped into the ocean."

Those bales of cocaine float, and the currents bring them west right into the chain of islands, beaches and cays which make up the huge lagoons that surround Bluefields on Nicaragua's Atlantic coast.

"There are no jobs here, unemployment is 85 per cent," says Moises Arana, who was mayor of Bluefields from 2001 to 2005.

"It is sad to say, but the drugs have made contributions. Look at the beautiful houses, those mansions come from drugs. We had a women come into the local electronics store with a milk bucket stuffed full of cash. She was this little Miskito [native] woman and she had $80,000."

More at the link.

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