The Colombian Connection

How a billion-dollar network smuggles pot and coke into the U.S.

  • Share
  • Read Later

(9 of 9)

To strengthen customs work in the U.S., the Government is training agents to use the Air Force's new AWAC (airborne warning and control system) planes to track small aircraft from Colombia. Last week, the AWAC plane, at 29,000 ft., spotted a twin-engined D18 moving north along the Florida coast and alerted customs and police. They seized 1,600 lbs. of Colombian pot shortly after the D18 landed near Fort Lauderdale. Says Coast Guard Commandant John Hayes: "For once we have something more sophisticated than smugglers can buy."

DEA Chief Bensinger outlines other measures he hopes will cut down the drug flow: "We are going to catch up by hitting their financial base: seizure of assets, real estate, all of the investments that go into a criminal organization. Then get penalties commensurate with the criminal profits; the returns for a smuggler far exceed the risks. Also, we hope to promote a better understanding of the health hazards. And in Colombia, you need the type of commitment that will stop production at the source."

TIME has learned from Latin American sources that the DEA is readying a blockbuster cocaine conspiracy case, involving indictments in four countries, to be made public within two months. The case, part of which has been presented to a San Diego grand jury, involves dozens of people, including high-ranking diplomats and airline officials in the U.S., Colombia, Peru and Mexico, who are accused of trading cocaine worth almost $500 million wholesale.

Current attempts to stamp out Colombia's drugs still seem to be mere stopgaps, however, ineffectual against the tide of American demand for, and tolerance of, marijuana and cocaine. Says Bensinger: "Our efforts are so uphill that it is more than a challenge. The public attitude must change about drugs so the profitability for traffickers will decrease." On this point, Colombian President Turbay agrees: "Colombians are not corrupting Americans. You are corrupting us. If you abandon illegal drugs, the traffic will disappear."

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8
  9. 9
  10. Next Page