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Alexander is in his mid forties and works in the media industry. He lives in the central district of Berlin – and he is a cocaine user. In the past, this meant he took the drug about twice a week. But since then Quarantine the covid area started sniffing it more often, Alexander told DW. “Four times a week, for sure.”

Most nights some friends come and visit him – something that is prohibited by Berlin’s lockdown rules. “But people are so bored, “he said.” And what do people take when they’re bored? Something entertaining. “

Party at home

Before the pandemic, Alexander and his friends met at a bar, where they secretly consumed cocaine every now and then.

“If you’re a group of eight people, it’s not like you all run to the bathroom at the same time,” he said. “But when you’re home, you put things on the table, make eight rows and everyone gets them at the same time. It’s faster this way, and everyone takes more.”

There are still no official figures on how drug use has changed during the coronavirus pandemic. Movement restrictions, closed borders and deserted airports should make it harder for criminal gangs to work, as they do with legal entities. As a result, experts initially predicted the drug trade would plummet, leading to a drop in consumption.

But supply is not a problem at all, Alexander said. With just one phone call, a “cocaine taxi” will stop at his house 20 to 30 minutes later. “You don’t have to wait more than forty-five minutes.” It’s like a food delivery service. Prices have also remained stable, he said, while the purity of the substance increased.

A record was found

Rene Matschke can tell. His job was to make sure the “cocaine taxi” Alexander called in Berlin sooner or later ran into a supply problem. Matschke is the head of a customs investigation office in Hamburg, Germany’s largest port city. “The main entrance to cocaine has always been a big port,” Matschke told DW.

More than 23,000 shipping containers arrive at the port of Hamburg every day. Matschke’s staff picked a very suspicious one: containers arriving from South America, taking a specific route, were handled by a shady company. Hamburg customs officials then screen these containers in their gym-sized X-ray facility.

On the hunt for smugglers: Rene Matschke heads the Hamburg customs investigation office

Sometimes they find cocaine packed in gym bags; sometimes hidden in bags of rice or animal feed. “The numbers we are taking right now have never been seen before,” said Matschke. “We hit ten tonnes in the last two years. Before, we would confiscate three or five tonnes nationwide per year.”

Last week, Matschke presented his work the greatest discovery to date: 16,000 kilograms (35,270 pounds) of cocaine. It had been hidden in a can that was supposed to contain putty. Never before has so much cocaine been seized in one catch in Europe.

The infographic shows cocaine seized in Germany in recent years

Europe is good for business

According to Jeremy McDermott, director of the InSight Crime organization, Europe is currently the most attractive market for cocaine traffickers. In an interview with DW, he talked about “the cocaine pipe to Europe. “

“The price is much higher, and the risk is much lower than in America,” said McDermott. He and his team in MedellĂ­n, Colombia, analyzed organized crime in South America.

“The United States spends billions of dollars every year fighting the drug war [war on drugs: Eds.]. They have deployed a truly dedicated force to fight narcotics, “he said. This makes focusing on Europe” just a good business decision. “McDermott believes the European cocaine market will continue to grow, especially in Eastern Europe.

An inforgraph showing the routes of cocaine to Europe

Cocaine production in countries such as Colombia, Bolivia and Peru remains high. Several routes to Europe have been established from those places, McDermott said.

“Let’s take one of the most popular routes, which is from Colombia to a port in Brazil. There, cocaine has to be loaded into containers to Europe. That would involve a different criminal structure, which is likely to have corrupted port officials and customs officials. ”

After reaching Europe, the containers were received by another crew and taken to an intermediate storage facility, McDermott said. The ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp are major receiving points, he added. “So it’s often Dutch organized crime that will take cocaine off the docks and move it to a safe house where the cargo is split. It has many different owners and purposes.”

Be prepared for violence

That’s how drugs found their way to smaller dealers and customers like Alexander’s in Berlin. Twelve million Europeans have used cocaine at some point, estimates EMCDDA, the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction, located in Lisbon, Portugal.

Laurent Laniel of EMCDDA said that cocaine has been on the rise in Europe for several years now. He hoped that the explosion would have had a devastating effect. “We have to prepare for more corruption and more violence in Europe,” he told DW.

A can that appears to contain putty but actually contains cocaine

Hamburg customs officials found 16 tonnes of cocaine hidden in the cans

Given the amount of cocaine that has been found, Laniel said one should assume that drug gangs at least bribe employees at ports and airports. “There are also indications of increasing corruption in law enforcement and criminal justice actors in Europe,” he said, adding that he believed some individuals in European government and politics could already benefit from the cocaine trade.

The more cocaine flows into Europe, the more money is at stake, Laniel said, and this increases the willingness of gangs to resort to violence. He cites the discovery of shipping containers in the Netherlands turned into torture chambers as an example of how brutal organized crime is now operating in Europe.

Matschke said there had been a shooting at a drug smuggling site in Hamburg and that a more powerful weapon was found during a search. Customs officials and police were also threatened, he added.

‘A pig that was slaughtered’

How should the state respond? With the war on drugs like the US is currently waging? McDermott of InSight Crime doesn’t think it’s the right way to go: “You need a holistic approach, not just repression, bans, and arrests.”

To do that, he said, Germany needed to work closely with European partners, the US and countries in Latin America. “You have to strengthen civil society, offer cocoa farmers a dignified and legal alternative. If you are trying to contain the drug trade simply by looking for containers in Hamburg, then your chances of making serious changes to the drug trade are very difficult. [slim]. “

A coca farmer in Putumayo, a coca region in Colombia

A coca farmer in Putumayo, one of Colombia’s main coca producing regions

Alexander’s cocaine user in Berlin saw himself as the last link in a long chain. Not much would have changed if he stopped using cocaine, he said. “Once the item is here, it’s like a pig being slaughtered. If I don’t eat it, it’s still dead.”

But what about his health? Regular use of cocaine can damage blood vessels and internal organs, lead to psychological dependence and lead to mental illness, doctors warn. “Because it is cut, what you put into your body is of course sometimes questionable,” Alexander said. He’s decided to try and do one thing when the lockdown is over, however: cut back on his consumption.

This article has been translated from German.

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