The drug market is currently experiencing an unusual and turbulent situation. On the one hand, there is an unprecedented overproduction of cocaine, the highest in the last decade. On the other, the European market is so saturated with the drug that its price has almost halved. This situation is partly due to an unexpected cause: Colombia’s recent ban on aerial spraying of agrochemicals.
Spain, a key player in the European cocaine market
Spain has long been a major gateway for Latin American cocaine into Europe. Recently, Spanish authorities have seized record-breaking amounts of cocaine, surpassing last year’s already significant figures. For instance, this month in Cambre, La Coruna, nearly 8 tons of cocaine were seized, hidden in tuna containers at the port of Vigo. This is one of the largest hauls in Galicia’s history. Spain’s pivotal role in the European cocaine market is further emphasized by the fact that most traffickers introduce the drug into the continent through Spanish ports.
The ecological reason behind the cocaine glut
The overproduction of cocaine can be attributed to an increase in cultivation areas and, more surprisingly, to Colombia’s ban on aerial glyphosate spraying against illegal coca crops. This herbicide, considered potentially carcinogenic, was causing environmental damage, including soil contamination and harm to local fauna. The Colombian State Council recognized that this method of crop eradication was not appropriate, as it was also affecting the environment. The ban, while environmentally motivated, inadvertently led to a spike in cocaine production and a subsequent price drop due to the increased supply.
With aerial spraying no longer an option, manual eradication has become the primary method used to destroy cocaine crops. However, this approach is time-consuming and risky. Colombian authorities report that the paths to these remote and jungle-covered areas are often controlled by former guerrillas and littered with landmines as a deterrent. According to ‘Descontamina Colombia’, from March 2020 to February 2021, 74 civilians were injured by landmines.
In recent years, Spain has become an essential hub for the cocaine trade in Europe. The importing of the drug to Europe through Spanish ports is largely managed by Albanian, Serbian, and Croatian mafias, such as the so-called Balkan cartel, which has recently expanded its control from the plantations in Latin America to distribution in Europe. Additionally, traffickers are exploiting the political instability and social crisis in Ecuador to transport cocaine shipments to Europe via the Guayas River, a direct link to the Pacific Ocean and the starting point for reaching European ports. While Algeciras, Valencia, and Barcelona are favored by traffickers, the ports of Antwerp in Belgium and Rotterdam in the Netherlands continue to lead in terms of cocaine traffic.