Ever wonder why so many people try smuggling cocaine from South America to the USA or Europe knowing it is a dangerous and highly illegal activity? The reasoning is simple, profits for drug smuggling cartels and the individual enterprenour are huge if they manage to get their product from where it is produced to where it is sold. How huge those profits can be is mind-boggling. In Peru, in one single coca leaf producing province, about 75,000 kilos or 83 tons of cocaine are produced every year. If all that cocaine made it to the USA it’s street value would be close to $ 4.5 billion. But for someone with the right connections they can purchase in the jungles of South America 25 pounds of uncut cocaine, in bulk, for around 40 to 50 bucks.
At the Plaza de Armas in Lima, according to our tour guide, tourists can purchase a gram of cut cocaine for $ 1. Yes, you read right, one dollar. Remember that those are tourist prices, locals who can haggle buy it at half that price but street kids sniff glue because it’s still less expensive than buying drugs. That same cut gram in New York City goes for $55 to $65 ($ 55,000 to $ 65,000 per kilo) according to the Big Apple’s newspapers. Just think, in the remote jungles of Peru the gram goes for $ 0.005 and one kilo for $ 4.40. Let’s not forget that the largest producer of cocaine in the world is Colombia, which accounts for 3/4 of all cocaine produced, and the price there is even lower than in Peru. Colombia does not grow enough coca leaves to produce that much cocaine but drug cartels import large quantities of cocaine base from Peru and Bolivia.
If cocaine does not tickle your fancy then consider that at most restaurants in Lima and Cusco one can buy te de coca or Mate Cusqueno which are listed under teas. Te de coca is like regular tea except that the tea bags are full of finely cut up coca leaves and sold legally at most supermarkets under several different brands. Mate Cusqueno refers to the whole coca leaves served in hot water and drank just like a tea, but unlike cocaine sugar is optional. If one would like to buy the coca leaves just go to any market and you will find men and women selling them by the bagfulls for a song, legally.
Smugglers buy or rent airplanes, cars, ships, fishing boats, go-fast boats, submarines, semi-submersibles, helicopters, trucks, mopeds, ox carts and almost every type of vehicle invented by man, including children, women and men, to transport their drugs. Don’t forget pets. The market they cater to is big with demand, outside of the USA and Europe, in at least all major cities world wide. The US is the world’s largest consumer with about 325 metric tons of cocaine a year, followed by Europe with 175 metric tons and the rest of the world consumes another 175 metric tons. Cocaine in Europe is much more expensive than in the USA, up to 50% more in some places, but historically cocaine lags behind marijuana and heroin as the drug of choice. Its use in the US is flat as some users have switched to methamphetamines because they are less expensive and the effects they produce lasts longer. Even then some experts say Americans spend a hard to believe $ 70+ billion a year just on cocaine.
Who uses cocaine? People of all races, ages, and walks of life, in the four corners of the world. Middle to high income college students, professionals, single adults with lots of discretionary spending, machinery operators, housewives, high school students, party animals, and clubbers use cocaine in its powder form. Lower income inner-city dwellers tend to use crack cocaine.
In recent years it has become a lot more difficult to grow, cultivate, prepare and smuggle drugs due to new technology derived from innovations learned on the battlefield in Iraq and now in use by law enforcement agencies. The penalties for those caught are severe and possesion of cocaine, except for sanctioned medical or official use, is illegal in most parts of the world. But I am reminded of the 80’s song Smugglers Blues by Glenn Frey and the line from the song that says, “You be cool for 20 hours and I’ll pay you twenty grand”. Why won’t a smuggler not pay someone 20k? For any smuggler the possible profit margin covers almost any expense imaginable. Even if 5 out of every ten shipments is intercepted the profits on the ones that get through still are astronomical enough to afford to pay a Spaniard € 4,000 to use his car to take the drugs from the beach where the boat docked to the other side of town where they are sold. That is why day in and day out someone, somewhere tries to smuggle cocaine from South America to the USA or Europe.