You don’t need the latest in aerial drone imaging specs to spy the grim, if entirely logical, thread coursing through the latest report issued by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.The 2012 World Drug Report, published on Tuesday, not only has illegal drug use worldwide likely rising 25 percent by 2050, but it forecasts the mass of this uptick to hang over the ballooning urban populations of developing nations.
The global black market for illicit highs is insanely lucrative and entrenched. Sizing up its breadth is dizzying. So it can help to break all this down to a single product under one nation. Take coke in Bolivia.
Bolivia is both landlocked and developing. With a population hovering around 11 million, it abuts west-central Brazil, a country through which most U.S.-bound coke is inevitably funneled. As of 2010 (the most recent data available to the UNODC) 0.51 – 1.0 percent of Bolivians aged 15 – 64 were riding the white bronco. Bolivia is also the world’s No. 3 cocaine producer. And seeing as the total area under coca bush cultivation fell 18 percent worldwide between 2007 and 2010 – a dip, the UNODC claims, “due largely” to a sharp drop off over the same three-year stretch in the cultivation of coca in Colombia, long the proverbial fertile crescent of cocaine culture – it may well stand to reason that as more Bolivians take to cocaine the Bolivian drug underground will only now simply pick up the slack, rising to the unique occasion of becoming that much more vital to the northbound flow of blow to America’s nose.
The Bolivian government knows it. Why? Drones. That’s why. Anti-drug squads are now using Brazilian spy drones to sniff out drug labs that dot Bolivia in increasing numbers. Felipe Caceras, Bolivia’s top anti-drug official, claims that some 240 drug labs have been busted in Santa Cruz, an eastern lowlands state bordering Brazil, this month alone, all thanks to Brazil’s drones, which are bought off Israeli robotics firms.
It’s all part of a bigger initiative to blot out the country’s coke kitchens. In 2009, authorities tore down 16 cocaine hydrochloride and 4,864 cocaine base labs. The very next year, authorities seized nearly 29,100 kilos, or about 4 percent of all seizures of coke in 2010, from Bolivian labs. There’s no telling, of course, to what extent these efforts have actually crippled Bolivia’s production; whether with each lab snuffed out, two more quickly take its place; whether the drones will deal a crushing blow to the Bolivian coca churn, or merely sharpen the craft of producers and smugglers; whether everyday folk, caught in the middle and living more and more on top of one another in urban sprawl, will be the only true victims in the long run.
It’s impossible to say. Still, for all the futility in accurately sizing up any black market, you have to hand it to the UNODC for at least trying, year after year, to plumb the ever-sinking depths of global illicit drug trends.
And if anything, the 2012 Global World Drug Report may point to a near future where the third world is not just even more blitzed on the veritable constellation of uppers and downers than it already is. In the case of Bolivia, whose coke producers and runners must now contend with all-seeing aerial spies, it could suggest a ramped up showdown between seaborne smugglers and authorities throughout the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, naturally, is now high on drones.
Reach this writer at firstname.lastname@example.org. @thebanderson