France dealing with influx of cocaine from Caribbean territories

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By Chris Dalby

LATIN AMERICA / CARIBBEAN, (InSightCrime) – A series of cocaine seizures in the French Caribbean territories of French Guiana, Guadeloupe, and Martinique has revealed how these territories provide another popular option for trafficking cocaine into Europe.

On September 22, authorities in French Guiana revealed that an ongoing legal experiment, where people caught carrying less than 1.5 kilograms of cocaine would not face criminal charges, would not be extended past the end of September. Such small-time seizures have become very frequent, especially on flights between French Guiana and mainland France.

French Guiana remains a popular departure point for cocaine due to its direct flight connections to France. Arrests in recent years have shown how the air link between Cayenne, the capital of French Guiana, and Paris Orly’s airport is a particular concern.

In February, French customs revealed that cocaine seizures at Parisian airports in 2021 were up 64 percent over 2019, despite a sharp drop in passenger numbers during the COVID-19 pandemic. French Guiana was the main origin point for cocaine seizures.

Related: Dutch Ship Makes Waves with Record Cocaine Seizures in Caribbean

The government is more concerned about the continued capture of much larger cargo. The latest such seizure came after a French coast guard vessel inspected a sailboat off the coast of Martinique on September 10 and found over 1.3 tons of cocaine on board. This marked the seventh such seizure so far this year, according to a government press release.

Sailboats appear to be a favored modus operandi through the French islands as another yacht was caught off Guadeloupe in July carrying over 445 kilograms of cocaine.

This has all contributed to an explosion of cocaine found coming into France this year. From January to July 2022, cocaine seizures by French customs were up 94 percent over the same period in 2021, Gabriel Attal, France’s Minister of Public Action and Accounts, told the press in September.

InSight Crime analysis

While the Caribbean has proven a popular route for drug traffickers to send drugs from Colombia and Venezuela north to Central America, Mexico, and the United States, much of the cocaine going through French Guiana, Guadeloupe, and Martinique is Europe-bound.

In May, a flight between Cayenne and Paris was chosen at random for an anti-narcotics sweep in French Guiana, according to a report by French media group RTL. Passengers on the flight were notified ahead of time they needed to show up at the airport ahead of time for this control. After receiving this message, 38 passengers rapidly cancelled their tickets, several were denied boarding due to suspicious behavior, and five were arrested after small quantities of cocaine were found in their luggage.

Related: The Dominican Republic – The Caribbean’s Cocaine Hub 

Besides the well-documented Cayenne-Orly route, the islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique are not spared from trafficking events. In June, the daughter of a former French minister and her husband were put on trial for allegedly importing cocaine from Martinique to the mainland.

And there is suspicion European criminal groups outside France may be getting involved. In July 2021, two Bulgarian citizens were caught on a yacht east of Martinique with a plentiful supply of cocaine. The men tried to burn their shipment but authorities retrieved over 300 kilograms of cocaine from the wreckage.

Furthermore, France’s anti-narcotics office (Office anti-stupéfiants – Ofast) has warned about traffickers swapping cocaine for cannabis resin.

“Traffickers arrive in the Antilles with 1, 10, or 100 kilograms of cannabis resin and leave with 1, 10, or 100 kilograms of cocaine. Trafficking is on the rise due to its availability and its cheap cost,” said Ofast’s director for the Caribbean, Christian Nussbaum, in a 2020 interview for Radio France Internationale.

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