Most cocaine produced in Colombia; upto 95.5%


Cocaine trafficking routes
Cocaine trafficking routes

Almost all cocaine is produced in Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia. The UNODC estimates the global cocaine trade is worth $88 billion per year. Afghanistan produces roughly 75% of the world’s opiates, with Mexico and Myanmar contributing most of the balance. The UN estimates the international drug trade to be worth $65 billion per year. Of the $35 billion in profits made from selling cocaine to Americans, only $500 million were realized by coca farmers, while dealers within the U.S. made more than $29 billion. In 2009, the US Cocaine Signature Program chemically analysed approximately 3,000 cocaine samples and found that 95.5% had originated in Colombia (down from 99% in 20023), with less than 2% coming from Peru, and the rest of indeterminate origin.

No similar profiling program exists in Europe, but seizures indicate a more heterogeneous profile. Between 2008 and 2010, about 25% of the volume of cocaine seized in Europe could be traced back to Colombia, with 6% traceable to Peru and 2% to the Pluri-national State of Bolivia. In the rest of the cases, only the transit countries could be identified. If cocaine that could be traced back to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama were added to the cocaine from Colombia, the ‘Colombia-linked’ cocaine seizures in Europe would rise to 69% of the total (2008-2010 period). Cocaine produced in Colombia is mainly destined for consumption in overseas markets.

Cocaine produced in Peru and the Pluri-national State of Bolivia, in contrast, are used more within South America, notably in countries of the Southern Cone. Even though Cocaine produced in Peru seems to be playing a growing role in Europe, the criminal Groups organizing the trafficking of cocaine from South America to Europe are still Primarily Colombian. Unlike in the United States, the Mexican cartels seem to have limited involvement in the European market.

Evolution of trafficking routes

The shifts in demand have clearly informed transnational cocaine trafficking. In the late1990s, the bulk of the world’s cocaine was still shipped to the United States. Over time, this route came to be dominated by Mexican groups. The Caribbean, which was the preferred transit zone when the Colombian cartels dominated the market, saw decreased trafficking as a growing share was moved via the Pacific through Mexico into the United States. The displaced Colombian traffickers increasingly focused on the growing European market. Traditionally, there have been several parallel streams of cocaine flowing into Europe. Commercial air couriers, sometimes directed by West African groups, have flown to Europe from various intermediate countries in the Caribbean. Colombian groups also made use of commercial air carriers, often in cooperation with groups from the

Dominican Republic, with whom they have a longstanding relationship. Larger maritime consignments were often stored on board ‘mother ships’ and transported to shore by smaller vessels from the coast. The primary maritime points of entry were Spain (due to proximity and cultural links) and the Netherlands (due to the large ports). These vessels typically transited the Caribbean.

For many years, the Netherlands was Europe’s second largest entry point of cocaine after Spain, reflecting inter alia the importance of Rotterdam as Europe’s largest port as well as cultural ties with a number of islands in the Caribbean. Seizures in the Netherlands have, however, declined sharply in recent years, from 15 tons in 2005 to 5 tons in 2009. Although this was still the third largest cocaine seizure total in Europe (after Spain and France), it was the lowest Dutch cocaine seizure total since 1995.

The decline seems to have been at least partly due to growing efforts to stop shipments before they leave their ‘origin.’ For example, in 2008 the National Crime Squad arrested several people suspected of planning to transport 2.6 tons of cocaine from a warehouse in Sao Paulo to the Netherlands, before the shipment actually took place. In addition, the ‘100% control’ strategy in the Antilles and Schiphol airports appears to have deterred the use of air couriers.

Large amounts of cocaine continue to be seized by the coastguards of the Dutch Antilles and Aruba. Out of 6.8 tons seized in 2008, 4.2 were taken by the Dutch navy from a cargo vessel sailing under a Panamanian flag from the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to Europe. Another factor may be diversions to Belgium, notably the port of Antwerp. Thus cocaine seizures reported by Belgium – in contrast to the overall trend in Europe – increased from 2.5 tons in 2007 to 4.6 tons 2009, giving Belgium the fourth largest cocaine seizure total in Europe in 2009.

In 2008 and in 2009, the second largest annual cocaine seizure total in Europe was reported by France, even though French cocaine seizures fell from 10 tons in 2006 to 6 tons in 2009. The bulk of French cocaine seizures was made at sea, mostly close to West Africa or close to the French overseas territories in the Caribbean. In 2009, the largest source country for cocaine shipments to France was the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (35% of the total).