Friday, July 15, 2011

A New Frontier for Cocaine Sales?

Harold Carrillo, facing a death sentence in China for cocaine smuggling.  Part of a trend?
Colombia is appealing to Chinese officials to spare the life of a Colombian man condemned to death there for cocaine trafficking.

Hárold Carrillo, a taxi driver from Cali, told his friends that he was traveling to China "for business," but was arrested in the Beijing airport with three kilos of cocaine hidden among his clothes. 

According to El Tiempo, a dozen Colombians are imprisoned in the People's Republic, two of them sentenced to death, for - surprise, surprise - drug trafficking. I suspect there'll be more.

China's booming middle class is growing so quickly and so rapidly gobbling up the planet's coal, petroleum, sharks' fins and lumber, that it's become a threat to the planet's biodiversity. Traditionally, China's drug of choice has been opium. But opium's sleep-inducing effects aren't exactly appropriate for the country's new, hard-driving culture. It may be only a matter of time before  the Chinese also discover cocaine, long the drug of yuppies and high-powered executives.

Recently, authorities have siezed shipments of cocaine both in Hong Kong and mainland China. And this article, about drugs shipped to Asia by mail, says that a kilo of cocaine in China sells for $200,000 - eight times what it's worth in New York and a hundred times what that kilo can be bought for here in Colombia. That means it's difficult to smuggle cocaine into China - but also that there's lots of demand there.

China is a huge country, with plenty of money and corruption - as shown by the repeated scandals over bad medicines and other products.

If many millions of Chinese develop a taste for cocaine, it'll likely mean the game's up for the already failing War on Drugs, as well as for huge swaths of Amazonian rainforest, which will be converted to coca leaf plantations and Colombia's still delicate democracy. Also, most likely, producers will plant coca leaf in Asia and Africa. This wouldn't be the first time. In the early 1900s, when coca leaf and cocaine were legal, the leaf was planted in Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Java. Why couldn't that be done again, especially in poor, corrupt nations such as Laos and Myanmar?

Mr. Carrillo had told friends he was traveling to the People's Republic for business. A long way for a taxi driver, but his story turned out to be accurate.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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