Interdicting International Drug Trafficking: a Network Approach for Coordinated and Targeted Interventions

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  • Published: 08 February 2021
  • Volume 28 , pages 545–572, ( 2022 )

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  • Luca Giommoni   ORCID: 1 ,
  • Giulia Berlusconi   ORCID: 2 &
  • Alberto Aziani   ORCID: 3  

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There is a relative dearth of literature on both the effects of cross-border interdictions and the impact of different types of interventions on international drug trafficking. This study identifies the main trafficking routes for cocaine and heroin, along with comparing the disruptive effects induced by targeted and non-coordinated interventions. It adopts a social network approach to identify the routes along which cocaine and heroin are trafficked, and then simulates the impact of different interdiction strategies on these two trafficking networks. The findings indicate that targeting countries based on their respective positions in the networks, as opposed to on the basis of the quantity of drugs exchanged, is more likely to disrupt drug flows. More specifically, concentrating law enforcement resources on countries with several incoming or outgoing trafficking connections, or those countries that mediate between producer, transit and consumer countries, would appear to be particularly effective in this regard. Interventions focused on specific trafficking routes are also likely to be effective if these routes have high edge betweenness centrality scores. This study contributes to extant understanding on the vulnerability of cocaine and heroin international trafficking networks, and, moreover, demonstrates that empirically-driven strategies are potentially more effective at interdicting international trafficking than non-strategic and non-coordinated interventions.

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Drug law enforcement is the primary method for controlling illicit drugs across the globe (Collins 2014 ; Mejía and Restrepo 2016 ). Indeed, even countries with a notably lenient approach towards illicit drugs, such as the Netherlands, spend much more on enforcement than they do on prevention, treatment and harm reduction combined (Rigter 2006 ). In 2018, the US government allocated five billion USD to interdiction efforts—a 10% increase compared to 2017—and one billion USD in an attempt to disrupt drug flows into the country (Executive Office of the President of the United States 2017 ). Reducing the supply of illicit drugs is also a key priority of the European Union (EU). The EU Drugs Strategy 2013–20 and Action Plan (2013–16) aim to ‘contribute a measurable reduction of the availability of illicit drugs, through the disruption of illicit drug trafficking, the dismantling of organised crime groups […], efficient use of the criminal justice system, effective intelligence-led law enforcement and increased intelligence sharing’ (Council of the European Union 2012 , 15).

Despite the popularity and the significant investment in drug law enforcement, several studies have questioned the outcomes of these interventions (e.g. Toth and Mitchell 2018 ), while others argue that a key reason for the lack of effectiveness of drug law enforcement is the dearth of research in this area (Caulkins 2017 ; Reuter 2017 ). This study builds on the scarce literature on international drug interdiction by simulating the potential impact of different strategies on international drug trafficking. More specifically, it takes advantage of publicly available data on cocaine and heroin flows to assess the disruptive effects produced by targeted interventions compared to non-coordinated ones.

The article is structured as follows. The next section discusses extant literature on both the efficiency and effectiveness of international drug interdictions, before delineating the aim of the current study. The proceeding sections present the methodology and the results of the analysis, respectively. The final section considers the implications of this study for law enforcement and policy. Technical details about the construction of the network are provided in the appendices.

Drug Law Enforcement

As Reuter notes, ‘[drug law enforcement] literature is slight in volume and not yet very insightful’ (2017, 160). More specifically, interdiction—including interventions aimed at dismantling transnational drug trafficking—is an area in which empirical research is particularly scarce (Reuter 2014 ). Indeed, there are only a handful of studies that seek to inform counter-drug interdiction policy (Crane, Rivolo, and Comfort 1997 ; Magliocca et al. 2019 ; Reuter et al. 1988 ; Toth and Mitchell 2018 ). Even then, these studies are, firstly, primarily focused on the US context and cocaine, and secondly, invariably lack consistent evidence (Crane, Rivolo, and Comfort 1997 ; Reuter et al. 1988 ). Moreover, with a few exceptions (e.g. Magliocca et al. 2019 ; Toth and Mitchell 2018 ), most of these studies are dated.

Reuter et al. ( 1988 ) provided one of the first attempts to empirically investigate the impact of interdiction events. They simulated the impact of increased military resources on disrupting international drug trafficking flows, demonstrating that increasing counter-drug interdiction efforts was unlikely to have an impact on either the availability of cocaine or its consumption in the US. Indeed, the use of military assets has been found to have more of an impact on the levels of importation of cannabis from other countries (with the exception of Mexico) (Caulkins, Crawford, and Reuter 1993 ).

Crane et al.’s ( 1997 ) study is perhaps one of the most cited and debated in this area. The authors examined data on cocaine prices and purity, concluding that interdiction efforts external to the US were a cost-effective strategy for increasing the price of cocaine, which, in turn, reduced cocaine usage. However, their study has been heavily criticised. For instance, a review by Manski et al. ( 2001 ) raised several concerns regarding the causal relationship between interdiction events and increases in the cocaine price, highlighting flaws in the method and data that were employed, and concluding that the study ‘does not yield useful empirical findings on the cost-effectiveness of interdiction policies to reduce cocaine consumption’ (Manski, Pepper, and Petrie 2001 , 43).

Two more recent contributions focused on the US and cocaine, and suggested that the impact of counter-drug interdictions was likely to only be temporary, if not wholly counterproductive. Toth and Mitchell ( 2018 ) conducted interviews with high-level informants from the US Drug Enforcement Administration. They showed that interdiction events produce only temporary effects within international drug trafficking, and that traffickers adapt to drug law enforcement by displacing their activities tactically, geographically or temporarily. Magliocca et al. ( 2019 ) utilised a geographical agent-based model to predict traffickers’ adaptation to interdiction initiatives. They found that traffickers adapt to interdictions by displacing to new areas, which, in turn, makes international drug trafficking more widespread and resilient in the aftermath of law enforcement interventions.

A growing area of research examines at micro-level how drug trafficking organisations respond to disruption (e.g. Morselli and Petit 2007 ; Bright et al. 2017 ; Wood 2017 ). Based on the analysis of criminal networks’ structure and features, most studies in this line of research have focused on evaluating the immediate structural effects of interdiction strategies targeting key actors along the drug supply chain (e.g. Morselli and Petit 2007 ; Malm and Bichler 2011 ; Duxbury and Haynie 2018 ). By combining computational modelling and social network analysis, a few authors (Duxbury and Haynie 2019 ; Duijn, Kashirin, and Sloot 2014 ) have provided a further insight into how criminal groups can recover and adapt to network disruptions. For instance, Duijn et al. ( 2014 ) discovered that criminal networks may even become more resilient after targeted attacks. Although these studies offer valuable insights for law enforcement authorities, they suffer from two main limitations for counter-drug interdiction policies: (1) with the sole exception of Morselli and Petit ( 2007 ), they focus on domestic rather than international drug trafficking organisations; (2) while pointing out the effect of an intervention on a single group, they do not inform us on the overall impact of the intervention on trafficking flows.

Both Reuter ( 2014 , 2017 ) and Caulkins ( 2017 ) identified several reasons for the lack of a thriving drug law enforcement research agenda. First, there is a lack of funding in this specific area of drug policy. This is because, while drug law enforcement absorbs most of the spending on drug control, prevention and treatment receive the lion’s share of drug research funding (Caulkins 2017 ; Reuter 2017 ). This contributes to the poor quality of data and estimates on both interdiction intensity and drug trafficking routes, which makes it even more challenging to produce sound policy analysis (Reuter 2014 ).

Second, drug law enforcement is a broad term which is used to designate a range of interventions that lie on a continuum from eradication in source countries to arresting drug users (Babor et al. 2010 ; Collins 2014 ), and whose assessment should therefore consider different outcomes, locations, and research designs. For example, a successful intervention for targeting cocaine trafficking may not be successful for cannabis, while what works for coastal countries, such as Australia, might not work for land-locked countries, such as Austria. To further complicate matters, drug law enforcement can also have different goals. While reducing drug use is often the primary objective, law enforcement agencies may also seek to reduce drug-related violence or weaken criminal organisations’ territorial control (Reuter 2017 ).

Caulkins ( 2017 ) pinpoints academics’ antagonism towards drug law enforcement as a further reason for the limited research on the topic. Given that they are often ideologically opposed to drug law enforcement agencies, researchers thus aim to discredit their work by drawing attention to their poor performance and various side-effects. Perhaps it is not a surprise, then, that enforcement agencies and governments are not inclined to fund academic research on drug law enforcement.

The scarcity of research in this area goes some way to explain why both so little has changed over the years in terms of how Western drug enforcement agencies respond to international drug trafficking, and why counter-drug interdictions have proven to be so ineffective (Balbirnie et al. 2016 ; Caulkins and Reuter 2016 ; Collins 2014 ). A recent evaluative study on the implementation and impact of the EU Drugs Strategy and related Action Plan for the period 2013–2016 found that, although the latter has been implemented and considerable progress has undoubtedly been made, there remains no evidence that the current supply-side strategies have reduced the availability of illicit drugs in the EU (Balbirnie et al. 2016 ). In the US context, Marshall ( 1988 ) stressed the need for empirically-driven drug law enforcement strategies more than 30 years ago, warning that ‘we are flying blind in the war on drugs’ (Marshall 1988 , 1605), and that greater resources should be invested in drug policy analysis and strategy. Similarly, the European Council emphasised the need for more empirical work in this important policy area, while the EU Drugs Strategy 2013–20 has called for more research-driven action, arguing that drug law enforcement, among other things, should be evidence-based and scientifically sound. Despite this, there remains a dearth of research on this important security, policy, and strategic issue.

The Current Study

This study contributes to extant drug law enforcement literature by identifying which interdiction strategies are likely to impact on the international trafficking of cocaine and heroin. Effective drug interdiction requires a high-level of coordination and information sharing between the various law enforcement agencies involved in such interventions. This is especially relevant in the EU context, where ineffective interdiction strategies in a member state can have knock-on effects on other states due to the free movement of goods, persons, and capital across the region. In this respect, a shipment of cocaine entering Spain, or heroin crossing the Greek border, can have implications for the entire EU, while, conversely, effective interdictions in key countries can have impacts that extend to all member states.

Nonetheless, simply increasing the available resources for, and the intensity of, border controls does not in itself ensure higher interdiction rates (Collins 2014 ; Kleiman 2011 ). Moreover, drug law enforcement agencies should also avoid evenly allocating resources across potential targets, which has proven to have limited effects in multiple fields. Instead, they should focus their attention on countermeasures whose efficacy and efficiency has been proven by solid evidence (Felbab-Brown 2014 ; Kleiman 1999 ). The current study shows that targeted interventions, whose design is grounded in empirical data on drug trafficking between countries, have greater potential to disrupt trafficking flows than non-coordinated interventions.

This study focuses on the two primary targets of international counter-drug interventions: cocaine and heroin. These two drugs are produced in specific geographical areas—cocaine in the Andean region, and heroin in Southwest Asia—and typically need to cross multiple borders before reaching consumer markets (Caulkins 2015 ). This makes interdiction a key drug supply reduction strategy. Interdiction is of less relevance in the enforcement of the supply of other drugs such as cannabis and synthetic drugs, which are often produced domestically and, thus, are close to consumer markets (EMCDDA 2019 ; UNODC 2019a ).

This paper contributes to extant drug law enforcement literature in three ways: (1) it provides the first simulation of the impact of different interdiction strategies on cocaine and heroin trafficking outside of the US; (2) it provides a tool through which to inform drug law enforcement agencies’ decisions and enhance the efficiency of their interventions; (3) it identifies key countries that, given their respective positions in the international drug trafficking network, should mobilise and lead counter-drug interdictions.


Cocaine and heroin trafficking networks.

This study conceives of cocaine and heroin trafficking as two weighted and directed networks, in which nodes represent countries and edges identify drug trafficking between any two countries. We used the methodology developed by the UNODC ( 2015b ) to estimate the presence and weight of the edges in the cocaine and heroin networks. This methodology is based on five main steps (Fig.  1 ): (1) identification of connections between any two countries; (2) estimation of the relative weight of each connection with respect to each country’s other incoming flows; (3) estimation of the quantity of drug consumed and seized in each country; (4) estimation of the total quantity of drug imported by each country; (5) estimation of the quantity of drug exchanged between any two countries. We produced year-by-year estimates of both cocaine and heroin trafficking flows (2011–2016) and calculated their mean over the entire period.

figure 1

Steps taken to construct the cocaine and heroin trafficking networks

Step 1 identified connections—i.e. drug trafficking flows—between any two countries. To do this, we drew on the UNODC Individual Drug Seizure (IDS) dataset for the period 2011–2016. Seizure data often includes information on the quantity of drugs intercepted by law enforcement agencies, the country where the seizure occurred, and the origin, transit, and—occasionally—destination country. For the years 2011–2016, the IDS dataset contains 13,021 records of seizures of coca derivatives and 8052 records of seizures of opium and its derivatives providing indications of 19,155 and 11,652 connections in the cocaine and heroin trafficking networks, respectively. The resulting cocaine network comprised 147 countries and 817 edges while the heroin network included 137 countries and 437 edges.

Step 2 involved estimating the relative weight (%) of each connection with respect to each country’s other incoming flows. We used information on the quantity of drug intercepted along the identified connections to obtain these estimates. We adjusted each seizure case for its estimated purity, which was calculated as the average purity of the drug at wholesale level in the importing and exporting countries. Footnote 1 Finally, we estimated the relevance of each edge with respect to the total seizures performed by importing countries:

where S dt is the quantity of drug d seized in year t , j is the importing country, and k is the exporting country. Figure 1 shows an example where 60% of the drugs seized by country A were smuggled from country D, while 40% was coming from country C. See Appendix 2 for further details.

A first limitation of this approach is that out of scale seizures may distort the estimates as particularly large seizures may reflect either an increase in shipments or luckier law enforcement operations (MacCoun and Reuter 2001 ; Kilmer and Hoorens 2010 ; Aziani 2018 ). Footnote 2 This is rarely the case for land and air routes because loads tend to be limited in scale; it may however be more likely in the case of sea connections, whose shipments are possibly larger. We used three-year moving averages to mitigate possible distortions driven by bulky seizures or limited data reporting in any given year. Footnote 3

Step 3 comprised estimating the total quantity of drug consumed and seized in each country, i.e. the quantity of drug that a country needs to import in order to satisfy its internal demand. To estimate the quantity of drug consumed in each country, we used a combination of demand- and supply-based approaches. First, we estimated the total quantities of cocaine and heroin available for consumption, starting from the UNODC ( 2019b ) estimates of the global production of the two drugs. Second, we divided these quantities by the global estimates of the number of users of the two substances, thus obtaining estimates of the annual consumption per user. Third, for each country, we multiplied the estimated number of users by purity-adjusted estimated quantities of cocaine and heroin consumed by each user (Kilmer et al. 2013 , 2011 ; Legleye, Lakhdar, and Spilka 2008 ; Wilkins, Bhatta, and Casswell 2002 ). Finally, we adjusted seizures for purity to make them comparable across countries before adding them to the total quantity of cocaine and heroin consumed (Paoli, Greenfield, and Reuter 2009 ). See Appendix 3 for further details.

Step 4 estimated the total quantity of drug imported by each country. For non-producing countries, this was equivalent to the sum of the quantity of drug consumed and seized (Step 3) and the quantity of drug imported and then exported to other countries. In the toy model proposed in Fig. 1 , country C imported one ton of drug to meet its internal demand and an additional 40% to export to country A, for a total of 1.4 tons.

Step 5 involved estimating the quantity of drug exchanged by any two countries. As Fig. 1 shows, country B required a total of two tons to satisfy its internal demand. Given that 100% of the seized drugs came from country D, we assumed that country B imported the two tons from country D. 60% of country A’s imports came from country D, while the remaining 40% came from country C, which led to an estimate of 0.6 tons having been exchanged between country D and country A, and 0.4 tons between country C and country A. See Appendix 4 for further details on the algebra behind step 5. Finally, we calculated the average of all annual estimates (2011–2016) to alleviate possible distortions due to exceptional events and episodic issues in data reporting.

Producing, Transit, and Consumer Countries

We classified the countries in the cocaine and heroin networks into three groups—‘producer’, ‘transit’, and ‘consumer’ countries—according to the role that they play in international drug trafficking. These labels identify the main role of countries, as only a few are exclusively consumers (i.e. they do not export drugs), while none are exclusively a transit country (i.e. they do not have any internal consumption). This classification will be used subsequently to identify the most effective interception strategies.

‘Producer’ countries were identified based on data on coca and poppy cultivation published by the UNODC ( 2019a ). The main cocaine producers were Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, while the main heroin producers included Afghanistan, Colombia, Laos, and Myanmar. We used information on drug imports and exports to classify countries as ‘transit’ or ‘consumer’. The natural logarithm of the ratio between total exports and consumption in each country was taken as a measure of countries’ main role in transnational drug trafficking. That is to say, the higher the ratio, the more pronounced the transiting role played by a country; the lower the ratio, the more a country is a destination market. We then classified the countries by partitioning them into two non-overlapping clusters through the use of a k-medians method, as any threshold to discriminate between ‘transit and ‘consumer’ countries would introduce an element of arbitrariness in the absence of further information. A list of the countries that make up the cocaine and heroin networks and their cluster is available on the authors’ Open Science Framework project profile, while Table 1 provides a summary of the clusters. Footnote 4

Network Statistics and Simulations

The first part of our analysis focused on providing descriptive statistics of the two networks. Footnote 5 We quantified network parameters by using social network analysis measures. More specifically, we used density (i.e. the proportion of edges in the network) and mean degree (i.e. the average number of edges for the countries in the network) to assess the degree of network cohesion (Wasserman and Faust 1994 ). We also used centralisation measures to assess whether the networks were characterised by the presence of a few trafficking hubs, or whether most of the countries had similar levels of involvement in trafficking activities (Giommoni, Aziani, and Berlusconi 2017 ).

We also calculated statistics for every country within the two networks, namely, degree centrality, betweenness centrality, and Gould and Fernandez’s ( 1989 ) brokerage measures. Degree centrality measures the number of countries that a country imports drugs from (in-degree) or exports drugs to (out-degree). Betweenness centrality measures the number of times that a country is located along the shortest path between any other two countries in the network (Wasserman and Faust 1994 ).

Gould and Fernandez’s ( 1989 ) brokerage measures afford the identification of the different brokerage roles that countries perform in the cocaine and heroin networks, respectively. They are based on the idea that ‘flows within groups should in general be distinguished from flows between groups’ (1989, 91). While betweenness centrality is expedient for identifying the countries that are located along drug trafficking routes, Gould and Fernandez’s brokerage roles are valuable in terms of identifying the countries that liaise between ‘producer’, ‘transit’, and ‘consumer’ countries.

Gould and Fernandez ( 1989 ) identified five brokerage roles (Fig.  2 ):

Coordinators mediate between two countries in the same cluster, such as in the case of a ‘transit’ country which lies along a drug trafficking route between two countries that are also primarily involved in transit activities (Fig. 2A ).

Itinerants mediate between two countries from the same cluster, while belonging to a different cluster (Fig. 2B ). A ‘transit’ country connecting two ‘producer’ countries is an example of this type of mediating role.

Representatives and gatekeepers mediate between two countries from different clusters. However, representatives share the same cluster as the country exporting drugs, whereas gatekeepers share the same cluster as the country importing drugs (Fig. 2 C and D, respectively).

Liaisons mediate between two countries in two different clusters, while, simultaneously, belonging to a third cluster. This relates to the case of a ‘transit’ country that lies on a drug trafficking route between a ‘producer’ and ‘consumer’ country.

figure 2

Examples of Gould and Fernandez brokerage roles in the cocaine and heroin networks

The inclusion of Gould and Fernandez’s brokerage roles allowed us to consider not only the position of countries within the entire network—as indicated by betweenness centrality—but also their capacity to connect different clusters. This is valuable information for developing targeted interdiction strategies, given the different clusters that countries belong to in the international trafficking of cocaine and heroin (i.e. producer, transit, and consumer). For instance, intervening in a transit country that plays a coordinating role may produce a very different impact on drug trafficking flows than intervening in the same country if it acts as a liaison between ‘producer’ and ‘consumer’ countries, even if the betweenness centrality score for that country is the same.

The second part of the analysis tested the impact of different interdiction strategies on the level of connectivity within the networks, and on countries’ closeness to all other countries in the network, in order to identify those strategies that were more likely to have a disruptive effect on cocaine and heroin flows between countries. Specifically, we measured network connectivity by producing the reachability matrix—i.e. the matrix that identifies whether any two nodes are connected by one or more directed paths—and calculating its density to obtain the fraction of all dyads (i.e. pairs of countries) that are connected through a directed path (Wasserman and Faust 1994 ). We measured countries’ closeness by calculating the average closeness centrality score for all countries in the network using Opsahl et al.’s ( 2010 ) approach, which can be used for fully connected networks and networks with disconnected components alike. We simulated two types of interdiction strategies.

The first strategy focused on countries. It was based on the removal of nodes (i.e. countries) from the networks, and tested the disruptive effect of concentrating interdiction resources within specific countries. Vertices were removed: (1) randomly; based on (2) unweighted and (3) weighted in-degree centrality scores; based on (4) unweighted and (5) weighted out-degree centrality scores; (6) based on betweenness centrality scores; and (7) based on the five brokerage roles identified by Gould and Fernandez ( 1989 ). With respect to both random removal and those cases in which more than one country had the same score, we simulated node removal 100 times, and reported the average connectivity and closeness scores for the 100 replications.

The second strategy focused on drug routes. It was based on the removal of edges from the networks, and tested the effect of concentrating interdiction resources on specific trafficking routes between countries. Edges were removed: (1) randomly; (2) based on their weight, i.e. the estimated quantity of drugs exchanged between any two countries; (3) based on their edge betweenness, i.e. the number of times an edge occurred on the shortest path between any two countries (Freeman 1979 ); (4) based on whether they connected two countries in the same cluster (e.g. two ‘transit’ countries); (5) and based on whether they connected two countries in different clusters (e.g. a ‘transit’ and a ‘consumer’ country). Similar to above, for the purposes of both random removal and those cases in which more than one edge had the same score or fell within the same category, we simulated edge removal 100 times, and reported the average connectivity and closeness scores for the 100 replications.

Supply-side reduction policies in producing countries have thus far been proven to have only a marginal impact on the availability of drugs, if not actually being wholly detrimental (Angrist and Kugler 2008 ; Collins 2014 ; Mejía and Restrepo 2016 ; Veillette 2005 ). In consideration of previous literature which has already addressed the limitations of supply-side interventions in producer countries, we excluded these countries from node removal, and instead solely focused on ‘transit’ and ‘consumer’ countries. It should also be acknowledged that there is a cost factor associated with removing nodes or edges that must be considered in the development of drug interdictions strategies. For instance, although enforcing the border between Mexico and the United States is likely to be more disruptive than interdiction strategies targeting the connection between Belize and Mexico, the former also involves higher costs. This paper focuses exclusively on the benefits that targeted interventions may produce but overlooks their costs. This kind of cost-benefit analysis is outside the scope of this paper but should be further investigated by future research.

Finally, it is worth emphasising here that the aim of our simulations is not to literally remove a country or a trafficking route, as sealing borders and impeding illicit drugs from penetrating a country has been found to not be practically achievable. Rather, our analysis aims to inform drug law enforcement by showing where interdiction efforts are more likely to have the most disruptive effects on the entire drug trafficking network. At a historical juncture characterised by reduced public expenditure, our analysis can both inform how scarce resources are allocated and increase the effectiveness of drug law enforcement.


Our approach is not without its drawbacks. Specifically, seizures might not be fully representative of actual drug flows. First, it is reasonable to expect a degree of heterogeneity in the effectiveness of different agencies’ enforcement activities, as drug policies vary across countries, and air and sea routes are easier to enforce than land routes (Reuter, 2014 ). Therefore, seizure data are likely to over-estimate the relevance of drug trafficking within more aggressive countries, and along sea and air routes.

Second, while seizures account for a large share of inflows in several countries, they are limited and only account for a small fraction of total inflows in other countries—see Appendix 5 for the share of cocaine and heroin seized, consumed and exported by each country. Moreover, some countries do not report information on drug seizures to the UNODC every year, while others report only certain cases or avoid sharing any information at all (UNODC 2019b ). Certain trafficking connections thus emerged from limited evidence. Finally, as already discussed, particularly large seizures might introduce an upward bias in the estimate of the relative relevance of a specific connection between two countries.

The combined use of information from multiple countries in multiple years helps mitigate the consequences stemming from countries’ differences in counter-drug efforts and seizure reporting, changes in countries’ border control activities, and exceptionally large seizures that might skew our estimates (Berlusconi, Aziani, and Giommoni 2017 ). Moreover, while working on the 1998–2014 UNODC cocaine IDS, Aziani ( 2018 ) noted that importing countries provide the vast majority of information actually usable to build a network. Since the relevance of each connection is estimated with respect to the importing country—i.e. through a comparison of incoming flows—this fact further reduces the biases due to different law enforcement and reporting systems, as these differences are likely to be more severe between countries than within countries. Nonetheless, the extent to which seizures represent actual flows or enforcement capacity remains unknown (MacCoun and Reuter 2001 ; Kilmer and Hoorens 2010 ); therefore, the resulting networks are an approximation of the drug trafficking activities taking place worldwide rather than their faithful reconstruction.

There are further uncertainties pertaining to our assumptions about users and their consumption, along with drug purity. The heterogeneity of data available across countries forces us to rely, from time to time, on linear interpolations and eventually on regional values. The lack of estimates is particularly severe with respect to quantities of drug consumed by the average user, which has thus been estimated starting from drug production data (see Appendix 3 for details). A series of inconsistent reports by government agencies and international organizations, together with the impossibility to state the exact time lag between drug production and consumption, led several authors to be sceptical about supply-side estimations (Reuter and Greenfield 2001 ; Kilmer, Reuter, and Giommoni 2015 ). While we do agree with this position, in the context of the current study, the limits of this strategy primarily concern the lack of adjustments for national consumption values per user and eventually a bias in the relative weight of consumption and seizures. Uncertainties about the time lag between production and consumption are instead likely to affect only marginally our analyses because we combine estimates referring to multiple years, and because the analysis of law enforcement interventions is not performed on a dynamic network.

Despite these aforesaid limitations, the approach adopted in this study has been extensively applied in other studies because of its unique capacity to produce new information on the existence of trafficking activities from available data (Dugato and Aziani 2020 ). Paoli, Greenfield, and Reuter ( 2009 ) were the first to conceive of international drug trafficking as a series of trading relations across countries. Boivin ( 2013 , 2014a , 2014b ) utilised information from seizures to study the network structure of international drug trafficking, while Chandra et al. ( 2011 , 2014 , 2015 ) used a similar approach to analyse drug trafficking flows across countries, albeit they constructed their networks with price-based data rather than seizure data. The UNODC ( 2015b ) developed a model to estimate heroin trafficking flows along the Balkan route, with the same methodology subsequently being used in academic articles on cocaine and heroin trafficking (Aziani, Berlusconi, and Giommoni 2019 ; Berlusconi, Aziani, and Giommoni 2017 ; Giommoni, Aziani, and Berlusconi 2017 ). Hence, this is an established method through which to estimate drug trafficking across countries.

The Structure of Cocaine and Heroin Trafficking Networks

The cocaine and heroin trafficking networks comprise 147 and 137 nodes, respectively (Table 2 ). While both networks show a low density, countries involved in heroin trafficking have, on average, fewer direct connections than those within the cocaine network, thus suggesting that heroin tends to be concentrated along fewer routes than cocaine, which is trafficked along several alternative routes. The production of heroin takes place in three distinct areas—Afghanistan, South-East Asia, and Latin America— and with respect to heroin trafficking, specific source and trafficking countries serve specific consumer countries (Paoli, Greenfield, and Reuter 2009 ; Meylakhs 2017 ). Conversely, cocaine is produced exclusively in few Andean countries; from there cocaine reaches its final markets located in all continents. These differences between the two illicit markets might explain the lower number of direct connections in the heroin trafficking network in comparison to the cocaine network.

Centralisation measures indicate that incoming and outcoming edges are not equally distributed in the two networks. This is particularly true for the latter, suggesting that most countries export to only one or a few other countries, while a small number of exporters have several outgoing edges. This is reinforced by Fig.  3 , which shows some differences in the distribution of edges between the countries in the two networks, and with respect to the analysis of countries’ centrality scores. Centrality scores for the countries in the two networks are available on the authors’ Open Science Framework project profile. Footnote 6

figure 3

The cocaine (left) and heroin (right) networks. The chord diagrams for cocaine and heroin flows were created using the ‘chorddiag’ package (Flor, 2019) for R (R Core Team, 2019 ). Interactive versions of the diagrams are available at and , respectively

The countries with the highest centrality scores in the cocaine network are Spain (121), Ecuador (72), Venezuela (72), Italy (70) and Portugal (67). Almost all the connections for Ecuador and Venezuela are outgoing, thus indicating that these countries are mainly exporters, while Spain has a similar number of incoming and outgoing edges. Pakistan (67), Spain (43), Bulgaria (31), Italy (30) and Germany (26) are the countries with the highest centrality scores within the heroin network. While for Pakistan most of these connections are outgoing, Italy primarily has incoming edges, which suggests that the country imports heroin from several exporters. It is important to stress here that a high centrality score in and of itself does not necessarily indicate that a country exchanges large quantities of drugs, while, conversely, a low centrality score does not necessarily indicate a low-volume of imports or exports. Indeed, a single connection may be enough to either satisfy a country’s demand for drugs, or exchange large quantities of drugs. The analysis of betweenness centrality scores suggests that Spain, Portugal, Germany, Italy and France are the countries that most regularly are located along the shortest path between any other two countries in the cocaine network, thus indicating that these countries are important trafficking hubs. Spain, who has the highest betweenness centrality score, also plays a key role in the heroin trafficking network, while Pakistan, the United Kingdom, Bulgaria and Russia are also located along several trafficking routes. The high betweenness centrality score for Spain in the cocaine network has a partial explanation in the fact that Spain is a fundamental point of entry of shipments coming from Latin America. The increase in production of heroin in Latin America, which has been taking place in the last years, might give Spain a more central role in the heroin network, too.

Gould and Fernandez’s brokerage measures offer a more nuanced analysis of countries’ brokerage roles. While some countries have relatively high scores for all brokerage measures (e.g. Spain in the cocaine network), many others have high scores for only one or two measures, which suggests that their brokerage role is limited to facilitating exchanges between or within clusters. For instance, in the cocaine network, Italy is the main coordinator, insofar that it is a ‘consumer’ country that mediates between several pairs of ‘consumer’ countries. Portugal is second only to Spain in its liaison and representative role, which suggests that it either regularly liaises between producer and consumer countries, or mediates between another country that is primarily involved in trafficking activities and a country from a different cluster. The brokerage measures also highlight the role of Venezuela—mainly in a liaison role—and Nigeria—mainly in terms of a gatekeeper—in facilitating the exchange of cocaine between countries. Nigeria also ranks as the third highest coordinator within the heroin network, while the Netherlands, a well-known redistribution centre for heroin in Europe, is one of the leading countries in terms of playing an itinerant and representative role.

Simulation of Drug Interdiction Strategies

Figure 4 shows the impact of different interdiction strategies on the level of connectivity within the cocaine network. The initial network connectivity was 0.52, i.e. 52% of pairs of countries were connected through a directed path. The network connectivity decreased as we removed vertices randomly, as well as based on countries’ degree, betweenness, and brokerage scores. Of the eleven node removal strategies tested, random removal proved to be the least effective, while targeted interventions were found to have a differential impact depending on the number of nodes that were removed. After the removal of five nodes, several strategies—based on unweighted in-degree, betweenness, and coordinator roles—appeared to have a similar impact. When ten nodes were removed, targeting coordinators, i.e. those that mediate between two countries in the same cluster, appeared to be the most effective strategy, followed by targeting gatekeepers and nodes with the highest betweenness scores. Targeting countries that operate in a gatekeeper role became especially valuable after the removal of approximately twenty nodes, and remained one of the most disruptive strategies when half of the nodes were removed together with countries with the highest betweenness scores. Targeting countries based on their position in the network, rather than, say, based on the quantity of cocaine exchanged, would thus appear to be an effective interdiction strategy. Indeed, targeting countries that import or export large quantities of cocaine did not appear to be as disruptive as targeting countries that played a key role in the trafficking network, and whose removal had a considerable impact on the overall network structure.

figure 4

Impact of different node removal strategies on the level of connectivity of the cocaine network

The simulation of interdiction strategies that targeted countries involved in heroin trafficking produced similar results (Fig.  5 ). The initial network connectivity was 0.56, i.e. 56% of pairs of countries were connected through a directed path. Random strategies were found to be the least efficient, while targeting countries with the highest betweenness scores proved to be particularly effective after the removal of five nodes and, allied with the targeting of coordinators and gatekeepers, ten nodes. As the number of nodes removed increased, targeting gatekeepers remained a valuable strategy, albeit interdiction strategies based on in-degree and out-degree centrality also became relevant.

figure 5

Impact of different node removal strategies on the level of connectivity of the heroin network

Figure 6 reports the impact of edge removal on the connectivity of the cocaine and heroin networks. Overall, node removal had a greater impact on connectivity than edge removal, as the removal of a node was likely to disrupt several drug routes at once. The simulation demonstrated that the removal of up to ten edges had little impact on the connectivity of the network, while there was little difference between random and targeted interventions. However, the removal of edges with high betweenness scores slightly outperformed the other strategies, and became the most effective approach as the number of edges removed from the network increased. Targeting edges that connected countries in different clusters was among the most effective approaches through which to disrupt the heroin network, whereas removing edges that connected countries in the same cluster was a particularly effective strategy for reducing the supply of cocaine. An interesting feature of interdiction strategies that target specific drug routes rather than countries is that targeted interventions are not necessarily more efficient than random interventions, particularly when interdiction focuses on a limited number of edges. Indeed, random interventions can be more disruptive than interventions that target edges based on their weight, i.e. the estimated quantity of drugs exchanged between any two countries.

figure 6

Impact of different edge removal strategies on the level of connectivity of the cocaine (left) and heroin (right) networks

Figures  7 , 8 , and 9 report the impact of node and edge removal on countries’ mean closeness in the cocaine and heroin networks. The results corroborate those already observed for network connectivity. Among the node removal strategies tested, random removal was always the least effective, while targeted interventions were found to have a differential impact according to the number of nodes that were removed. Here as well targeting countries based on the role they played in the network was more disruptive than removing countries based on the quantity of drug exported or imported.

figure 7

Impact of different node removal strategies on the mean closeness of countries in the cocaine network

figure 8

Impact of different node removal strategies on the mean closeness of countries in the heroin network

figure 9

Impact of different edge removal strategies on the mean closeness of countries in the cocaine (left) and heroin (right) networks

The results of the edge removal show some similarities but also an important difference. Edge removal had a smaller impact on closeness than node removal, as already observed for connectivity. The removal of edges based on their betweenness scores had a greater impact than the other strategies, and was found to be the most effective approach. Perhaps more importantly, the results show that the removal of edges based on the quantity of drug exchanged (i.e. the edge weight) is not necessarily an effective strategy at increasing the distance between countries in the two networks, i.e. increasing the number of steps needed to move the drug along the transnational supply chain.

The density and mean degree of the two networks suggest that heroin tends to be concentrated along fewer routes than cocaine, although in both cases traffickers exploit only a limited number of selected routes, which is in accordance with the findings of previous studies (Boivin 2014b ; Chandra and Joba 2015 ; Giommoni, Aziani, and Berlusconi 2017 ). This draws attention to the non-random nature of drug trafficking routes. Rather, social, economic, and geographical drivers—e.g. geographical proximity, levels of corruption, migration flows, size of the market—all strongly influence the formation of drug trafficking flows (Aziani, Berlusconi, and Giommoni 2019 ; Giommoni, Aziani, and Berlusconi 2017 ; Paoli, Greenfield, and Reuter 2009 ; Reuter 2014 ).

The results also confirm the notable role played by specific countries in international drug trafficking. For instance, the integral role played by Spain, Ecuador and Venezuela in cocaine trafficking should not come as a surprise considering their geographical and social proximity to producer countries in the Andes (Aziani, Berlusconi, and Giommoni 2019 ). Likewise, the study confirms the important role played by Pakistan and Bulgaria in the trafficking of heroin. Pakistan borders Afghanistan, which means that it is located at the very beginning of transnational supply chains of heroin. Bulgaria plays a crucial role in the Balkan route—the largest heroin trafficking route in the world—as it is one of the main entry points for Afghan opioids to Europe (UNODC 2015b ).

However, some of our findings on the structure of the two networks have hitherto not been consolidated in extant literature on transnational drug trafficking. For instance, Spain had one of the highest degree and betweenness centrality scores, which signals its role as both an importer and exporter of cocaine and heroin. While its role in heroin trafficking is perhaps unexpected, this pattern may indicate the increased relevance of the Southern route (EMCDDA 2015 , 2019 ; UNODC 2015a ). Through the Southern route, heroin shipments from Iran and Pakistan are trafficked through African countries on their way to entering Europe, especially via Spain. For many years, the Balkan route has been the principal route through which heroin makes its way to Europe (UNODC 2015b ). In recent years, instability within many African countries has presented new smuggling opportunities characterised by a lower risk of arrest for traffickers (Shaw and Tuesday 2019 ).

This study is the first to apply Gould and Fernandez’s ( 1989 ) brokerage measures to international drug trafficking. While brokerage and betweenness centrality measures are highly correlated, the former provides a more precise indication of the specific roles that countries play in connecting different clusters. More specifically, brokerage measures reveal the nodes that connect producer, transit and consumer countries, which, in turn, make it possible for drug shipments to move along the transnational supply chain. For instance, the Netherlands often perform a representative role, along with playing a crucial role in connecting trafficking countries with consumer countries.

These results offer suggestions for developing targeted interventions aimed towards disrupting cocaine and heroin international trafficking. The study has shown that concentrating interdiction resources within the ten countries identified in this research as being integral to the cocaine trafficking network may prove to be more effective than the non-coordinated enforcement of cocaine flows within fifty countries. Similar indications emerge from the simulations conducted in relation to the heroin trafficking network. Enforcement strategies that focused on as few as three countries, which were selected according to their betweenness centrality, produced better results than the non-coordinated allocation of resources across thirty countries. Similarly, strategies that target drug routes, rather than countries, also showed some differences with respect to strategic and non-strategic interventions. Targeted interventions that were either driven by edge betweenness or focusing on the connections between countries in either different or similar clusters were found to be systematically more effective than random interventions, when at least twenty edges were targeted. Hence, while coordinating countermeasures at an international level is anything but straightforward, the improvements in terms of efficiency alone could be hugely substantial.

Given that countries have multiple connections in trafficking networks, targeting a limited number of countries is likely to reduce network connectivity more quickly than concentrating interdiction efforts on specific connections between countries. In fact, our analysis appears to suggest that targeting nodes is, from a network perspective, altogether more efficient. However, in practice, targeting specific connections—especially along land and air routes—may simply be easier for law enforcement agencies.

The aim of our simulations is to provide a support tool for drug interdiction, rather than putting forward a one-size-fits-all solution. Counter-drug strategies should thus be adjusted according to the number of countries or drug routes that law enforcement agencies can and want to focus their attention on, as well as the type of drugs. If the amount of allocated resources is limited, then the results from our simulations suggest that law enforcement authorities should base their interventions on countries with high betweenness scores or on those that play a coordinator or gatekeeper role. Conversely, if drug law enforcement authorities have a greater available budget—or face more difficulties in effectively coordinating between each other—, then degree-based interventions are also effective for disrupting international drug trafficking.

The results of our analysis could also be used to identify the set of countries that would cause the maximum amount of disruption within the two networks. Although cocaine and heroin are produced in different geographical areas, and are often trafficked by distinct criminal groups via different routes, this study identifies the points at which cocaine and heroin networks overlap. For instance, Spain emerges as the country where the allocation of proper resources could cause the greatest amount of disruption to both cocaine and heroin trafficking. Similarly, if we were to focus on only a single connection, then targeting drug flows between Portugal and Spain would likely have a disruptive effect on both cocaine and heroin cross-border trafficking. Indeed, the connection between the two countries was in the top ten for edge betweenness within both networks.

Transnational drug trafficking operates as a complex ecosystem. What happens, or does not happen, in one country can influence the entire trafficking network. For instance, the extent of cocaine or heroin trafficking in Ireland may have more to do with interventions in other key trafficking countries than it does with enforcement of the Irish borders. This predicate especially applies to countries within regional communities (e.g. European Union), where internal borders are minimal in order to facilitate trade between member states. Hence, even if Irish drug law enforcement were to heavily invest in counter-drug interdiction efforts, this would have little impact if the trafficking of cocaine and heroin continued to flow easily via Spain and other key countries within the EU. Conversely, countries like Ireland may achieve better results vis-à-vis disrupting trafficking flows by joining or financing interdiction activities in countries that play a key role in the cocaine and heroin networks.

Finally, it is worthwhile to discuss the main limitation of our simulations, i.e. the fact that they do not consider the fact that traffickers adapt to interdiction activities. For instance, drug traffickers can respond to law enforcement interventions by shifting to alternative routes, a phenomenon which is known as the ‘balloon effect’, or by resorting to alternative modes of transportation and/or hiding techniques (Friesendorf 2005 ; Guerette 2009 ; Magliocca et al. 2019 ; Reuter 2014 ; Toth and Mitchell 2018 ). Future research should thus seek to include a dynamic component within their simulations, in order to account for how trafficking activities can be displaced as a consequence of law enforcement interventions. Research in this area has hitherto been particularly scarce, in part because this kind of studies requires greater information about both traffickers’ decision-making and the intensity of the interdiction.


The national and international drug control agenda is marked by a sharp misalliance, which pertains to the fact that the enforcement of illicit drugs receives the majority of the available funding, while the majority of drug control research focuses on treatment and interventions (Caulkins 2017 ). Moreover, research on drug treatment and prevention is far more voluminous and, generally, of a better scientific standard than research on drug enforcement (Caulkins 2017 ; Reuter 2017 ). These studies continuously develop new interventions aimed at determining what works best, for whom, and under which circumstances (Fischer et al. 2015 ; Stockings et al. 2016 ; Wu, Zhu, and Swartz 2016 ). In comparison, this kind of refined analysis is almost completely absent in the drug law enforcement literature (Reuter 2014 ).

This study provides a tool through which to help drug law enforcement agencies become more effective in their attempts to dismantle international drug trafficking. This study does not question the validity of supply-side policies per se. Rather, it provides empirical evidence about the vulnerability of cocaine and heroin international trafficking networks, in conjunction with identifying where drug law enforcement agencies interventions are most likely to cause the maximum amount of disruption. More importantly, the study demonstrates that empirically-driven strategies can be twice as effective as non-strategic and non-coordinated interventions, while, simultaneously, using half of the resources. Consequently, this research does not simply indicate strategic interventions, but can also help to reduce costs, and, in turn, improve the overall cost-effectiveness of interdiction interventions.

The corollary of this study, and of a more active drug law enforcement research agenda generally, is that it can free up funding while, simultaneously, reducing the burden of countering strategies for the involved populations. Simply put, drug law enforcement interventions can achieve more with less, if they are informed by empirical evidence. Hence, the additional funding that would be made available as a consequence of designing more cost-effective interventions could be reinvested in other under-resourced areas, such as drug enforcement research or treatment and prevention interventions. Research into drug law enforcement can thus be beneficial for the entire drug policy agenda.

Data Availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available on the UNODC website at .

Not accounting for purity levels might inflate the relevance of flows occurring between downstream countries, where drug might be more cut (Paoli, Greenfield, and Reuter 2009 ). Since the UNODC ( 2019a ) does not provide data on purities for all countries in the two networks, regional data on purity was used whenever national data was not available, and macro-regional data was used in a few cases where regional data was also missing.

See Appendix 1 for further details on the distribution of cocaine and heroin seizure cases across countries. Summary statistics on seizures cases by importing country are available on the authors’ Open Science Framework project profile at .

In any given year, the estimate of the seizures along each route ( S ma , t ) is a function of the seizures performed along the route in the given year ( S t ) as well as the seizures performed in the previous ( S t  − 1 ) and following year ( S t  + 1 ). Seizures for the previous and following year enter in the calculus with a weight, which is half the weight of the year under consideration: \( {S}_{ma,t}=\frac{S_t+\left({S}_{t-1}/2\right)+\left({S}_{t+1}/2\right)}{2} \) . .

The analyses were performed using the ‘network’ and ‘sna’ packages (Butts 2015 , 2016 ) for R (R Core Team 2019 ).

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This article is dedicated to Professor Carlo Morselli. Carlo was unlike any other who worked in the field of criminal networks. This article would not exist without his prior work on networks and crime. The authors would like to thank Brenda Bastos Campos (University of Surrey) for her help with managing and cleaning the UNODC data on individual drug seizures. We also would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments.

This work was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council under Grant ES/S008853/1.

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Luca Giommoni

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Giulia Berlusconi

Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore and Transcrime, Milan, Italy

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All authors contributed to the study conception and design. Material preparation, data collection, and analysis were performed by Luca Giommoni, Giulia Berlusconi, and Alberto Aziani. The first draft of the manuscript was written by Luca Giommoni and all authors commented on previous versions of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Appendix 1. Distribution of Cocaine (Top) and Heroin (Bottom) Seizure Cases by Importing Country (2011–2016)

figure a

Appendix 2. Identification of Drug Connections Among Countries

We can represent the trafficking network of drug d in year t by N d , t  = ( I d , t ,  F d , t ), such that { i d , t , 1 ,  i d , t , 2 , …,  i d , t , n } are the nodes, and F d , t  = {( j ,  k )} are the weighted edges. The structure of F d , t was estimated based on information retrieved from the UNODC IDS dataset, as done in previous studies (e.g. Berlusconi, Aziani, and Giommoni 2017 ; Boivin 2013 ; Giommoni, Aziani, and Berlusconi 2017 ).

First, opium poppy derivatives (29,559 seizures) were transformed to heroin-equivalent quantities according to conversion rates retrieved from the literature (Sanzharovskaya et al. 2013 ; UNODC 2019b ). Similarly, quantities of coca derivatives (237,000 seizures) were converted to cocaine (UNODC 2010 ).

Second, we matched importing ( i d , t , j ) and exporting ( i d , t , k ) countries exploiting information on countries of production, departure, and destination of the seized drug loads, whenever available. After several checks (e.g. that i d , t , j is not equal to i d , t , k ), we were left with 13,021 seizure cases that provided information on edges in the cocaine trafficking network and 8052 seizure cases with information on edges in the heroin network. As certain seizure cases provided information on multiple connections, records of seizures of coca derivatives helped us identify 19,155 connections, while the connections emerging from the records of seizures of opium were 11,652.

Appendix 3. Consumption and Purity Adjusted Seizures

The study combined a demand- and a supply-side approach to the estimate of the size of the national markets for illicit drugs ( M d , t , i ). The size of a national market was given by the sum of total consumption, \( {C}_{d,t,i}^{p\_ adj} \) —expressed in pure quantity of consumed drug—and purity-adjusted seizures, \( {S}_{d,t,i}^{p\_ adj} \) . Annual estimates were produced for the years ( t ) 2011–2016:

The consumption was given by the product of the prevalence of consumption in the 15–64 population ( pr d , t , i ) multiplied by the 15–64 population ( Pop t , i ), and by the estimated consumption per user at the global level (c d , t ):

The UNODC ( 2019a ) provides time-series data on the prevalence of use of cocaine and heroin. Missing years were imputed through linear interpolation and extrapolation; whenever data for a country were missing for the entire 2011–2016 period, regional values were used to impute missing values. Population data were retrieved from the UNDESA ( 2019 ). Having estimates on prevalence and population size, it was possible to obtain the number of consumers per country. Data on consumption of drug per user are currently unavailable for most of the countries of the world. Therefore, the estimate of the consumption per user was obtained by adopting a supply-side approach. In particular, the estimates of the global productions of opium poppy and coca leaves gathered from the UNODC ( 2019b ) were converted in equivalent masses of pure cocaine and heroin by adopting the conversion rates provided by the UNODC ( 2010 ). The total masses of available cocaine and heroin were then divided by the overall number of consumers, which was obtained by multiplying the prevalence of use by the population size in each country, and then summing the national estimates. This gave us an average consumption per user, which does not vary neither across countries nor by user type—i.e. light and heavy users. The estimate of the annual average consumption of cocaine per user ranges between 4.7 g of perfectly pure cocaine in 2013 and 7.8 pure grams in 2016. The annual consumption of heroin per user is between 3.6 pure grams in 2012 and 6.0 pure grams in 2014. Data on the global production of cocaine and heroin came from the UNODC ( 2019a ).

To obtain purity-adjusted seizures, the registered volume of seizures S d , i was multiplied by the typical purity pu d , i of drug at the wholesale level in the country:

Both data on total seizures and typical purity were retrieved from the UNODC ( 2019a ). Missing observations on the purity level were estimated through linear interpolation and extrapolation. When no data on purity were available, regional and macro-regional averages were used to impute missing data.

Appendix 4. Algebra Behind Import and Export Flows

Except for producing countries, in year t , each country i belonging to the global trafficking network of the drug d imports from K different countries a quantity of drug apt to satisfy its own internal demand—i.e. consumption ( C ) and seizures ( S ). The actual flow of drug entering the i country is larger because of drug loads ( E ) that are transiting through the country to reach other markets ( l ). All these flows are bilateral so that exports from a given country are mirrored by imports from all other countries, and vice versa. As discussed in Appendix 2, it is possible to estimate consumption ( \( \dot{C} \) ) and seizures ( \( \dot{S} \) ) separately. Therefore, by solving a system of equations describing the relationship between internal demand and international flows for all the countries that are part of the trafficking network, it is possible to estimate the size of incoming and outgoing flows of drug:

Appendix 5. Share of Imports of Cocaine (Top) and Heroin (Bottom) Which Are Seized, Consumed, and Exported by Importing Country (Average 2011-2016)

figure c

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Giommoni, L., Berlusconi, G. & Aziani, A. Interdicting International Drug Trafficking: a Network Approach for Coordinated and Targeted Interventions. Eur J Crim Policy Res 28 , 545–572 (2022).

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Drug trafficking and substance abuse continue to take a significant toll on the American public.  In the twelve months between September 2020 and September 2021, more than 104,000 Americans died due to drug overdose.  The overwhelming majority of these deaths involved opioids.  The Department will address this harm in several ways.  The Department will combat transnational drug trafficking organizations.  These organizations are operating a $500 billion industry that fuels corruption, violence, and terrorism around the globe.

In addition, the Department will address the evolving nature of the illicit drug threat, on both the dark and clear webs.  While the dark web remains a threat, social media and e-commerce platforms on the clear web have emerged as new marketplaces to buy and sell counterfeit pills, opioids, and other drugs, as well as dangerous precursor chemicals and the equipment used to manufacture pills.  Many of the counterfeit pills sold online, which look exactly like actual pharmaceuticals, are marketed to kids, teens, and young adults, and are often mixed with synthetic fentanyl – the leading driver of the overdose epidemic.  Dismantling illicit online drug marketplaces and holding responsible corporations – including responsible executives – who enable these illicit drug marketplaces, are critical to preventing overdoses and stemming the flow of dangerous drugs into our communities.

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Illicit Drugs Are Undermining Pacific Security

A network of local and transnational criminal enterprises has expanded the Pacific’s ‘drug highway’ into a regional problem.

Saturday, March 9, 2024 / By: Jose Sousa-Santos

Publication Type: Analysis

This is part one in a three-part series on the Pacific drug trade.

A quick succession of drug busts in Fiji earlier this year — the seizure of 3.5 tons of crystal methamphetamine followed by another 1.1 tons — underscored the threat that the illicit drug trade and narco-corruption pose to the stability and security of countries and societies situated along the so-called Pacific drug highway.

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf offloads approximately 7,500 pounds of seized cocaine and marijuana in San Diego. March 20, 2021. (Travis Magee/U.S. Coast Guard)

Following the first methamphetamine seizure in January, Fiji’s acting police commissioner, Juki Fong Chew, described it as “one of the biggest seizures ever” as well as the largest methamphetamine bust in Fiji since 2004. This raises many questions, including: Where did the drugs come from? Which syndicates, cartels and outlaw motorcycle gangs were involved? And who are the local facilitators?

The Growth of the Pacific Drug Trade

The Pacific Islands are located along licit and illicit maritime trade highways that span the Pacific Ocean. The Pacific “ drug highway ” has become the main transit route for drugs and chemical precursors being trafficked from Asia and South America to lucrative markets in Australia and New Zealand .

Drug trafficking and other transnational crimes are enabled by the region’s vast and porous maritime borders, weak jurisdictions and inadequate legislation, corruption and limited enforcement capabilities.

A recent report by the National Research Institute in Papua New Guinea cited weak governance, corruption, improved technology, poverty and geography as key factors contributing to the growth of transnational crime in the Pacific’s most populous state.

In recent years, the illicit drug trade has spilled over into domestic markets in the Pacific Islands region where the drugs are increasingly being produced and consumed. Mirroring international trends, organized crime syndicates and cartels have colluded and adapted to changing markets.

Starting in the mid-2000s, outlaw motorcycle gangs such as the Australian Rebels and the New Zealand Head Hunters began establishing chapters in the Pacific Islands, notably Fiji and the Cook Islands, to better control and facilitate the trafficking of illicit drugs into Australia and New Zealand. These Pacific Island chapters quickly became nodes in a criminal network stretching across Asia, Europe and North America — ones that allowed indigenous and local crime syndicates to work in partnership with transnational syndicates that utilize the Pacific trafficking routes and offer access to the Australian and New Zealand drug markets.

This network of actors includes Chinese and other Asian syndicates, with Chinese organized crime increasingly active throughout the Pacific. In 2017, 77 Chinese nationals allegedly involved in operating an online fraud syndicate from Fiji were arrested and deported by Fijian and Chinese law enforcement. Then, in 2019 and 2020, Palauan law enforcement detained and deported hundreds of mostly Chinese citizens working in illegal online gambling operations. In some cases, there are documented links between the Chinese state, legitimate commercial enterprises, local elites and organized crime — such as in the case of Chinese 14K Triad boss Wan Kuok Koi, or “ Broken Tooth .” 

The network also includes criminal enterprises on both sides of the Pacific, with Mexican and South American cartels, Australian organized crime, New Zealand organized crime and U.S.-based gangs with links in the Pacific through criminal deportees all involved.  

From ‘Drug Highway’ to Local Issue

This interconnectedness has turned the Pacific drug highway into a complex web of external and local syndicates, regional actors and hybrid networks — all of which exacerbated and contributed to the rise of drug trafficking and use as localized problems in Pacific Island nations.

The increasingly localized nature of transnational crime in the Pacific Islands region is marked by the spillover of drugs into communities; local actors serving as facilitators; growing corruption; and the societal impact of drug addiction, including rampant use of intravenous drugs, prostitution, exploitation of children, and criminal and violent behaviors marked by domestic and sexual violence. For instance, Tonga’s Women and Children Crisis Centre Director 'Ofa Guttenbeil-Likikiliki has noted both the increase in domestic violence and its severity in cases involving illicit drugs. 

In 2019, then-Fijian Police Commissioner Brigadier-General Sitiveni Qiliho publicly voiced what had become widely accepted among law enforcement and security professionals: The Pacific Islands were no longer transit points for the shipment of illicit drugs to Australia and New Zealand but had become sources themselves.

At the time, there was growing evidence that the “spillover” into local drug markets, coupled with the Pacific becoming a site of production , had given rise to a growing demographic of drug users. Drug-related arrests in Fiji increased by approximately 845 percent between 2009 and 2018, with methamphetamine-related arrests increasing by roughly 550 percent between 2009 and 2019. In response, Fiji drafted a national narcotics strategy and framework.

In 2021, Fiji’s director of public prosecutions, Christopher Pryde, claimed , according to news reports, that funds from illicit drug activities totaled more than $5 million per year and that “local traffickers could make between $2,500 and $5,000 a day from the sale of cocaine and meth in the domestic market.”

What Enables Pacific Drug Trafficking

Drug trafficking is, in part, enabled by the policies of partner countries. For example, the criminal deportee policies of Australia, the United States and New Zealand have all arguably contributed to the rise of transnational crime in the Pacific by returning individuals who have no safety net to vulnerable communities. This has directly undermined the policy objectives of development partners in the region.

The COVID-19 pandemic also exacerbated and amplified the impact of the drug trade on Pacific communities. The Pacific Islands Chiefs of Police observed the economic disruption caused by the pandemic could be facilitating local recruitment by drug traffickers in the Pacific. The problem became so disruptive that in 2020, at the height of the pandemic, Tonga had to amend its Illicit Drugs Control Act — with the acting justice minister, Samiu Kuita Vaipulu, stating that “ice” (methamphetamine) is “Tonga’s killing virus, not COVID-19.”

Another key enabler has been the rise of hybrid criminal networks. Papua New Guinea’s police commissioner, David Manning, publicly stated that Asian gangs have not just connected with local criminal gangs in PNG but had infiltrated them. The result has been a spike in illicit drugs, trafficking of women and girls, and smuggling of weapons. This has fueled tribal warfare and the corruption of government officials.

Besides having an impact on security and stability, the direct and indirect corruption of law enforcement, border security, customs and other agencies contributes to the erosion of democracy and, ultimately, undermines the rule of law.

The involvement of corrupt government officials in the drug trade adds another wrinkle to the problem. Days after the methamphetamine bust in Fiji in January, Chew claimed that high-profile individuals with authority and high-ranking police officers were suspected of being part of the drug ring. This came as little surprise, as years earlier the then-head of Fiji’s Police Drug Intelligence Unit, Anare Masitabua, raised similar concerns about the infiltration of Fiji’s security and law enforcement agencies.

In 2019, a senior Tongan customs official and a police officer were arrested in Tonga’s “war on drugs” for facilitating the trafficking of methamphetamine, cocaine and illegal firearms from the United States. Twenty-eight police officers were suspended. Tonga’s then police minister, Mateni Tapueluelu, warned influential Tongans : “Don’t think you can sit on some high places and think you’re too high for the police to reach, it’s just a matter of time. You deal, you pay.”

The transnational crime landscape in the Pacific intersects with governance, development and security in complex and at times violent ways. Current trends show that drug trafficking through the Pacific is increasing and the network of transnational and local actors facilitating the trade is growing, adapting and evolving. Further research to map these networks and actors is critical to addressing the paucity of data and to enable the development and implementation of strategies which will minimize the damage to Pacific societies, especially its youth.

Jose Sousa-Santos is a visiting fellow at the University of Canterbury’s Macmillan Brown Pacific Studies Centre.

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drug trafficking and threats essay

Drug trafficking essay

Drug trafficking is one of the most serious problems for most countries all over the world. Unfortunately, this type of business is rather profitable, if not to consider that it is constantly related to murders, kidnapping, prostitution and other crimes. Certainly drug trafficking contributes to better distribution of drugs, thus involving more and more people, making them addicted. Taking into consideration all the possible dangers, drugs are able to bring to any society, most countries are working constantly in order to prevent use and distribution of drugs which are not legal. The rage of responsibility varies in different countries, from fines and several years in prison to death punishment in China for example. Generally, “drug trafficking” means production, distribution and sale of illegal drugs. (Syal, 2009, p. 2). In this paper we are going to stop at some historical information, related to drugs and drug trafficking, the effects drug trafficking has upon people and societies, we will use some concrete examples of illegal drugs and finally discuss possible ways of limiting distribution of drugs or banning it on the basis of the Obama’s National Drug Control Strategy.

Historically, it is possible to talk about appearance of illegal drug trade around the beginning of the 19 th century. “China retaliated by enforcing the ban on imports of opium that led to the First Opium War (1839–1842) between Great Britain and Qing dynasty China” (Berridge, 1981, p. 5). The highest authorities in China struggled against free sales of opium, whereas United Kingdom pushed China to let the merchants from China bring opium without any bans. However the volumes of opium trade continued to grow, because smoking opium turned into a habit among usual people. No wonder that the number of opium addicts grew immensely in the 19 th century. The Second Opium War took place in 1856, the result of the two wars was that “the British Crown, via the treaties of Nanking and Tianjin , took large sums of money from the Chinese government through this illegal trade, which were referred to as “reparations” (Berridge, 1981, p. 10).

In the year 1868, the government of the UK took the decision to restrict sale of opium in the Pharmacy Act. In 1914 Harrison Act followed in the United States. Thus, it is clear, that even taking into consideration the fact, that opium sale brought good profits, sooner or later, governments had to restrict and take under control illegal drugs, in order not to worsen the situation with addicted people.

Further, it is necessary to study the effects of the illegal drug trade upon usual people, as well as societies in generally, in detail. This is evident, that those countries, where drugs transit and distribution was widely developed, had to face the problems with drug addicted individuals.

Most researches confirm the fact that illegal drug trade is closely related to crimes’ rate, namely such violent crimes, as murders. In this case we are unfortunately talking not only about developing, but about developed countries as well. For example, “In the late 1990s in the United States the Federal Bureau of Investigation estimated that 5% of murders were drug-related” (Berridge, 1981, p 3).

The UK government’s surveys also underlined, that because of high cost of the illegal drugs and strong addiction, people are likely to commit serious crimes, including robberies, burglaries, murders and so on. “The cost of crime committed to support illegal cocaine and heroin habits amounts to £16 billion a year in the UK” (Epstein, 1989, p. 13). The fact, that drugs were illegal, unfortunately could not restrict the actual sale and distribution, on the contrary this field of criminal activity was able to bring such high profits and the system was so well-built, that drugs became integrated into the American culture. “This high price is caused by a combination of factors that include the potential legal ramifications that exist for suppliers of illicit drugs and their high demand. (Limited supply can be caused by a range of factors) (Epstein, 1989, p.14).There appeared certain layers of society, where the high cost could not be an obstacle and drugs were used as a type of recreational activity. Irrespective of constant attempts to seize control over this problem by the authorities, it is still remaining actual for the USA as well as other countries all over the world. The 1940s brought prohibition of opiates, the 1960s – of marijuana and the 1970s – of heroin, however cocaine and other drugs continued to arrive to the U.S. through the Mexican border. “An estimated $10 billion of the Mexican drug cartel’s profits come from the United States, not only supplying the Mexican drug cartels with the profit necessary for survival, but also furthering Americans’ economic dependence on drugs.” (Epstein, 1989, p 16). The results were that first of all the number of drug-addicted people constantly grew and secondly, illegal drugs’ trade proved to be a business of very high profits and in fact a lot of businessmen invested exactly into this industry.

Demographic was also in a way under influence of illegal drugs. Starting from the 1960s a lot of immigrants arrived to America and the diversity of public was evident. As several decades pasted, more and more criminal records, related to murders and other criminal acts on the basis of drug addiction, were created. Certainly the situation was different in different cities, however generally it really caused a great concern. “An example of this could be seen in Miami, a city with a host of ethnic enclaves. [44] Between 1985 and 1995, the homicide rate in Miami was one of the highest in the nation and rated four times the national homicide average” (Epstein, 1989, p. 22). The decades between 1960s and 1980s also revealed the effects of drug trade upon the baby boomer generation. The demand for marijuana and other drugs was getting higher and higher during this period, resulting in its turn in increase of criminal cases, including suicide, murders, substance abuse. Thus, the insufficient control and restriction of illegal drugs had really serious impact upon individuals as well as societies in general.

Political impact, which illegal drug trade had, could not be underestimated as well. The above-mentioned generation of the baby boomers was used to confront laws on various issues, including illegal drugs. The government was taking specific steps in order to restrict drug trafficking and trade, but with poor results. Marijuana was imported from the Latin America, whereas cocaine was received from Mexico and Colombia. “Due to the influence of this development on the U.S. economy, the Reagan Administration began “certifying” countries for their attempts at controlling drug trafficking” (Syal, 2009, p. 10). During the 1980s America pushed more for restriction of drug transit. The result was that more drugs arrived from Mexico: in the beginning of the 1990s – these were around 50 % of cocaine and by the middle of the 1990s – the percentage increased up to 90 %. Some researches state that between the years 1996 and 2000 the total consumption of cocaine on the territory of the U.S. decreased by 11 %.

The Merida Initiative was a state program, which was initiated in 2008, with the major aim to stop drug trafficking from Mexico. The financial assistance from America, along with possibility to buy the necessary equipment was supposed to produce their positive effect. Unfortunately, the drug trade continued. Thus it is evident, that illegal drug trade has its impact upon internal political situation in any country as well as upon international relations in general.

Cannabis is one of the most popular drugs, the legalization of which till the moment remains a rather controversial issue. Most countries all over the world defined this drug as an illegal one. There are countries, as Canada for example, which made cannabis legal for recreational use, with restriction of its import and distribution. In the year 2014 Uruguay considered legalization of cultivation and sale of cannabis for adult individuals with recreational purposes. In the Netherlands possession and licensed sale of cannabis are not prohibited, however cultivation of the drug is against the law.

Heroin is another wide-spread illegal drug, initially cultivated in the Golden Triangle – Southeast Asia. In addition, opiate was transported from Afghanistan and Mexico. “According to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration , the price of heroin is typically valued 8 to 10 times that of cocaine on American streets, making it a high-profit substance for smugglers and dealers” (Syal, 2009, p. 10). The price of heroin, which is up to 10 times higher than that of cocaine, guarantees dealers and distributors good profits. High costs also contribute to easier transportation, as small doses are easier to hide. One the other hand, penalties for smuggling and heroin sale are rather serious in most countries, including life sentence or even death sentences.

Methamphetamine is also rather popular under such names as “ice”, “meth”. It is often produced at some rolling meth labs, which makes it rather difficult to detect. This drug is very dangerous due to its injectable form, which might be the source of such infections as HIV or hepatitis C. Usually it is inhaled through some kind of tube.

Temazepam, another example of wide-spread illegal drugs, is “a strong hypnotic benzodiazepine , is illicitly manufactured in clandestine laboratories to supply the increasingly high demand for the hypnotic drug internationally (Syal, 2009, p. 8). Eastern Europe is the place of concentration of such labs. In the United Kingdom temazepam belongs to legal drugs and is very often abused. In Sweden it was banned after numerous deaths caused by the drug.

Thus in this section we have briefly studied some examples of the widely –spread illegal drugs, countries of their origin and application, possible negative effects and risks of the most famous illegal drugs.

It is evident, that the problems of drug abuse, drug distribution and drug trafficking need complex solutions from the authorities. A lot of politic leaders and government representatives contributed their efforts into solving of the illegal drugs problems. President Obama is not an exception, in May 2010 he released the National Drug Control Strategy. “ The press release states that the report “establishes five-year goals for reducing drug use and its consequences through a balanced policy of prevention, treatment, enforcement, and international cooperation ( Syal, 2009, p. 13 ). This Strategy suggests five-year goals aiming at reduction of drug abuse, namely:

“ • Reduce the rate of youth drug use by 15 percent; • Decrease drug use among young adults by 10 percent; • Reduce the number of chronic drug users by 15 percent; • Reduce the incidence of drug-induced deaths by 15 percent; and • Reduce the prevalence of drugged driving by 10 percent” (Syal, 2009, p. 13).

The three main challenges, described in this strategy include prevention of drug use, of driving under drug impact and prescription drug abuse. A separate place in the strategy is devoted to the problem of recovery of the people, who already became addicted and need urgent and concrete help. Addiction is not the final sentence, there are many case, where the situation might be returned under control with the help of special community addiction centers, development of new medications and so on.

Overall, in this paper we have studied the notion of drug trafficking, its historical development and various approaches, applied in different countries towards this problem; we have pointed out some concrete spheres of illegal drug abuse influences, including political, social spheres; we have listed the most popular and wide-spread drugs, their major qualities, places of cultivation and ways of transportation and distribution. All this information is vitally important for understanding the necessity of better international along with internal control of illegal drugs and their trafficking, as well as possible means and strategies, which would positively contribute to restriction and control of drug trafficking for the sake of future healthy generations.

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Essay on Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking

Students are often asked to write an essay on Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking in their schools and colleges. And if you’re also looking for the same, we have created 100-word, 250-word, and 500-word essays on the topic.

Let’s take a look…

100 Words Essay on Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking


Drug abuse and illicit trafficking are global problems. These issues affect society’s health, safety, and well-being. Drug abuse refers to the harmful use of drugs, while illicit trafficking involves illegal trade of drugs.

Effects of Drug Abuse

Drug abuse can lead to health problems, including mental disorders and physical illnesses. It can also cause social issues like unemployment, crime, and broken families.

Illicit Drug Trafficking

Illicit drug trafficking is a serious crime. It involves the manufacture, distribution, and sale of illegal drugs. This trade fuels crime, violence, and corruption.

To fight drug abuse and illicit trafficking, we need education, law enforcement, and treatment programs. It’s a fight that needs everyone’s participation.

250 Words Essay on Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking

Drug abuse and illicit trafficking are interconnected global issues that impact societies at multiple levels. They pose significant threats to public health, socio-economic stability, and the rule of law.

The Scourge of Drug Abuse

Drug abuse is not confined to any demographic or socio-economic strata. It’s a pervasive issue that affects individuals, families, and communities. The repercussions extend beyond health problems, leading to broken families, lost potential, and increased crime rates. The abuse of prescription drugs and new psychoactive substances (NPS) has emerged as a significant concern, highlighting the evolving nature of drug abuse.

Illicit Trafficking: A Global Problem

Illicit drug trafficking fuels organized crime, destabilizes societies, and undermines economic growth. The clandestine nature of drug trafficking makes it a complex issue to tackle. It’s a lucrative business for criminal networks due to the high demand for drugs and the significant profits involved.

The Interplay and Impact

Drug abuse and illicit trafficking form a vicious cycle. Increased availability of drugs due to illicit trafficking leads to higher rates of drug abuse. Conversely, the demand created by drug abuse fuels illicit trafficking. This interplay exacerbates the social and economic issues associated with each problem.

Addressing drug abuse and illicit trafficking requires a holistic approach that includes education, prevention, treatment, and law enforcement efforts. It’s crucial to break the cycle of demand and supply to effectively combat these issues. By understanding the complexities and interconnectedness of drug abuse and illicit trafficking, we can develop more effective strategies to address these global problems.

500 Words Essay on Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking

Drug abuse and illicit trafficking are significant global issues that continue to pose a serious threat to public health, social stability, and economic development. They are intrinsically linked phenomena that reinforce each other, creating a vicious cycle that is challenging to break.

Drug abuse refers to the chronic or habitual use of any chemical substance to alter states of body or mind for other than medically warranted purposes. It often leads to addiction, a complex brain disorder characterized by compulsive drug use despite harmful consequences. The repercussions of drug abuse are multifaceted, affecting not only the individual user but also their families, communities, and society at large.

Illicit Drug Trafficking: A Global Concern

Illicit drug trafficking, on the other hand, is a global black market dedicated to the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, and sale of drugs that are subject to drug prohibition laws. It’s a highly profitable, yet dangerous business, often associated with powerful transnational organized crime networks. Its impacts are far-reaching, undermining social and economic development, political stability, and public health.

The Interplay between Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking

The relationship between drug abuse and illicit trafficking is symbiotic. The demand for drugs fuels the illicit trade, while the availability of drugs promotes abuse and addiction. This interplay creates a self-perpetuating cycle that exacerbates both problems.

The illicit drug trade also has a significant impact on drug abuse rates. The illegal nature of the business means that drugs are often cut with harmful substances, increasing the risk of overdose and other health complications. Furthermore, the lack of regulation makes it easier for individuals, particularly vulnerable populations such as the youth, to access drugs.

Addressing the Issue

Addressing drug abuse and illicit trafficking requires a comprehensive, multi-pronged approach. This includes prevention efforts aimed at reducing the demand for drugs, harm reduction strategies to minimize the negative health impacts of drug use, and supply reduction measures to disrupt the illicit drug trade.

Education plays a crucial role in prevention. By raising awareness about the dangers of drug use and promoting healthy coping mechanisms, we can help individuals make informed decisions and reduce the likelihood of drug abuse.

Simultaneously, law enforcement efforts must be strengthened to dismantle the illicit drug trade. This includes improving international cooperation to combat transnational organized crime networks, enhancing intelligence capabilities to disrupt supply chains, and strengthening legal frameworks to ensure perpetrators are brought to justice.

In conclusion, drug abuse and illicit trafficking are interconnected global problems that require concerted efforts to address. By understanding their interplay and implementing comprehensive strategies, we can work towards a future free from the devastating impacts of these phenomena. The challenge is daunting, but with the right approach, it is surmountable.

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Hondurans are glued to their former president's drug trafficking trial in a New York courtroom

Marlon González And Larry Neumeister

Associated Press

Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

In this courtroom sketch, Judge Kevin Castell, center, presides over the courtroom as former Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernndez, right, testifies on Wednesday, March 6, 2024, in New York. Prosecutor Kyle Wirshba is at left. Hernndez has been on trial since February in a federal courthouse in Manhattan, accused of taking bribes to protect drug traffickers, even as he portrayed himself publicly as an ally in the U.S. drug war. (Candace E. Eaton via AP)

TEGUCIGALPA – Hondurans call it the “Trial of the Century,” but it’s occurring in a New York courtroom some 3,500 miles (5,630 kilometers) away.

Former Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernández has been on trial since February in a federal courthouse in Manhattan, accused of taking bribes to protect drug traffickers, even as he portrayed himself publicly as an ally in the U.S. drug war.

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Testifying Tuesday and Wednesday in his own defense, Hernández denied conspiring with drug dealers or taking bribes. “Never,” he insisted, adding that he was once warned that a drug cartel wanted to assassinate him. Deliberations were scheduled to start Thursday.

The trial is not televised, but some Honduran news outlets sent their own reporters to New York to cover the prosecution, with each pre-trial motion dissected by local news outlets. Others simply follow a handful of people who have been live-tweeting testimony and summarizing the day’s courtroom developments.

Hernández, 55, was arrested in February 2022 , less than three weeks after leaving office, and extradited that April. Despite being praised for years by U.S. officials as a valued partner in the drug war, U.S. prosecutors allege he was part of a conspiracy that took millions of dollars from drug traffickers in exchange for helping them move U.S.-bound cocaine through Honduras.

If convicted, he could face a life sentence.

Despised for years in Honduras as he trampled a constitutional ban on reelection to run again and win in a highly criticized election filled with irregularities, many Hondurans are eager to see him face justice.

“I follow it through social networks, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok, because I don’t really watch the news and there they give summaries of how the trial is going,” said Milagros Oviedo, a 20-year-old college student in the capital.

Local news programs read the tweets from those following the trial on air and then invite lawyers to discuss the details of the U.S. penal system.

Testimony from several drug cartel witnesses seeking to avoid spending the rest of their lives behind bars consumed much of the trial. Required to divulge their roles in dozens of murders, they also claimed Hernández and his brother accepted millions of dollars to protect drug shipments for years.

One drug trafficker who testified that he was responsible for 56 murders, though he only personally killed two people, said Hernández promised him as long ago as 2009 that he would ensure law enforcement left him alone if he provided financing for his political career.

Throughout his two days on the witness stand, Hernández kept his composure, calmly answering questions even as a prosecutor taunted him with questions, even asking sarcastically if all five trial witnesses who claimed he accepted money from drug dealers were lying and he was the only one telling the truth.

“They all have motivation to lie, and they are professional liars,” Hernández said. Four of the five were convicted drug traffickers who testified that they gave money to Hernández themselves.

Prosecutors rested their case Monday. The first witness called by the defense, a former security chief for Hernandez, testified that he had never seen him with drug dealers.

In closing arguments Wednesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacob Gutwillig told the jury that Hernandez “paved a cocaine superhighway to the United States,” empowering and protecting drug dealers he favored and turning over to U.S. authorities those he considered enemies.

The prosecutor said Hernandez “thought he had everyone fooled” by posing publicly as an anti-drug trafficking crusader.

In his closing, defense attorney Renato Stabile attacked the credibility of drug traffickers who testified against Hernandez, saying, “not only do their stories make no sense, they contradict each other.”

“The man has been wrongfully charged,” he said. “I'm asking you to find him not guilty on all counts.”

Cristian Cálix, a 23-year-old law student in Tegucigalpa, said the U.S. trial is complicated because “it shows the difference in thinking (between the prosecutors and the defense) that doesn’t leave it clear whether the ex-president is guilty or innocent.” There’s also a difference in legal systems to bridge, like the U.S. prosecutors’ reliance on testimony from other convicted criminals.

“So far in the case, there isn’t overwhelming evidence – photos, videos – that show his guilt, beyond testimony, but knowing the U.S. laws it would be difficult for him to escape a possible sentence,” Cálix said.

Academic Marco Flores wants justice but has mixed feelings about the amount of attention the trial is drawing in Honduras.

“He must pay for all of the harm he did to the country,” Flores said. Hernández was never going to be brought to justice in Honduras, but “They’re giving a lot of propaganda to a criminal and there are more important things to worry about in Honduras.”

Sociologist and analyst Pablo Carías said Hernández’s trial, while justified, is doing harm to Honduras.

“There is not the least doubt that a broad sector of the Honduran people will have greater apathy toward politics and politicians because of what is happening,” he said.

“If a president is being tried abroad for drug trafficking, it’s because the institutions (in Honduras) were co-opted by organized crime and that doesn’t give guarantees to anyone,” Carías said.

Neumeister reported from New York.

Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly (second, right) at the opening of a court prison complex in Somalia.

UN crime prevention chief pledges enhanced cooperation in Somalia

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The Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Ghada Waly has highlighted the threats of transnational organized crime, terrorism and corruption that is plaguing Somalia.

On a mission to the Horn of Africa nation, Executive Director Waly underscored on Friday that “ Somalia faces daunting challenges that range from terrorism to resurgent piracy, poverty and the consequences of climate change .”

A complicated crisis

Speaking to UN News in Mogadishu, Ms. Waly said interlinked threats included piracy, illegal fishing, different types of trafficking and smuggling together with terrorism, all underpinned by money laundering and corruption.

Mogadishu coast, Somalia.

These threats also have an impact far beyond Somalia. Firearms trafficking across the Gulf of Aden supplies Al-Shabaab and other terrorist groups while migrant smugglers operating along Somalia’s northern coast transfer people towards the Arabian Peninsula. 


At the same time, unregulated foreign fishing fleets are exploiting Somalia’s marine resources, threatening biodiversity and livelihoods in the Indian Ocean.

Drug trafficking could also be an expanding threat, Ms. Waly added, due to the difficulty of policing Somalia’s long coastline and the country’s connectivity in terms of air travel. 

Resilience and the rule of law

The 2013 attack on the Banadir Court Complex in Mogadishu by the militant group Al-Shabaab stands as a sombre example of these challenges. The 30 deaths, multiple casualties and damage to the facility struck “a heavy blow to the justice sector of Somalia”, Ms. Waly noted. 

Meanwhile, judges and prosecutors had fallen victim to terrorist attacks.

Improving the rule of law – important for any government – becomes even more crucial in a country confronting terrorism, organized crime and corruption, which is why Somalia and UNODC have been working together to establish the Mogadishu Prison Court Complex (MPCC).

Conceived, designed and delivered by UNODC, the establishment of the MPCC was a direct response to the attack on the Banadir Court Complex and stands as an example of the strong and enduring partnership between the UN and the Government of Somalia.

In Mogadishu to inaugurate the MPCC, Ms. Waly noted that the complex is now “a centre for the administration of justice", with two courtrooms, three prison blocks with a capacity of 700 beds and accommodation for judges to reduce the need for road travel during a trial.

“ It provides a secure environment for the judiciary and a humane setting for prisoners, fostering rehabilitation and long-term security .”

It is the latest in a series of construction and renovation projects supported by UNODC to help bolster Somalia’s legal and correctional infrastructure. 

Mogadishu prison and court complex.

Since 2010, UNODC had constructed new prisons, renovated existing detention facilities and erected Ministry of Justice buildings and other security sector facilities in Mogadishu, Bosasso, Garowe and Hargeisa.

Preventing piracy

Promoting the rule of law does not stop at Somalia’s land borders, however. Piracy off the coast of Somalia had been a threat with global consequences for years, Ms. Waly told UN News , until a recent decline.

But, geopolitical tensions in the Red Sea have escalated insecurity and affected shipping routes, with an estimated 50 per cent decrease in trade vessels passing through the Gulf of Aden due to Houthi rebel attacks from Yemen, which the rebel movement says are in solidarity with Gaza. 

Pirates, sensing the international community’s diverted attention, have increased operations with increased impunity along the Somali coast. 

A Somali coast guard crew member at the launch of a patrol boat near Mogadishu.

Since November 2023, pirates have hijacked dhows (a traditional sailing boat used in the region) and used them to carry out command-and-control attacks against larger vessels.

“These challenges pose a direct risk to international peace and security, endanger the lives of seafarers and are disrupting trade routes that many countries rely on for economic stability, food security and sustainable development,” Ms. Waly warned. 

To increase maritime security in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, UNODC is training law enforcement officers on how to detect, interdict and prosecute illicit trafficking and maritime crimes.

UNODC is also providing essential marine communications and maritime equipment to support law enforcement. In Mogadishu, for instance, Ms. Waly officially handed over a refurbished patrol vessel and communications equipment to the Somali Police Coast Guard.

A coast guard patrol boat is launched near Mogadishu in Somalia.

Through these and other efforts, Ms. Waly said, UNODC is helping Somalia improve its operational capabilities and legal framework for prosecuting piracy while enhancing collaboration on maritime security in the region.

Ms. Waly reiterated UNODC’s commitment to continue and expand its work in Somalia.

“Today, we write another chapter in Somalia’s story of resilience and hope for a future where every Somali citizen can live in peace, security and dignity,” she said.


Katie Britt, With a Smile and a Fierce Glare, Delivers G.O.P. Response to Biden

The Alabama senator, 42, who has been floated as a possible running mate for Donald Trump, gave a tonally jarring speech that toggled between strained cheerfulness and ominous warnings.

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Katie Britt Attacks Biden in G.O.P. Response

Seated at her kitchen table in montgomery, ala., the republican senator called president biden “a dithering and diminished leader” and addressed issues including immigration and i.v.f..

Like so many families across America, my husband, Wesley, and I just watched President Biden’s State of the Union address from our living room, and what we saw was the performance of a permanent politician who has actually been in office for longer than I’ve been alive. President Biden’s border policies are a disgrace. This crisis is despicable. And the truth is, it is almost entirely preventable. Right now, our commander in chief is not in command. The free world deserves better than a dithering and diminished leader. We want families to grow. It’s why we strongly support continued nationwide access to in vitro fertilization. We want to help loving moms and dads bring precious life into this world.

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By Michael C. Bender and Kayla Guo

Reporting from Washington

  • March 7, 2024

With a sunny, inviting smile, Senator Katie Britt of Alabama welcomed Americans into her kitchen on Thursday night.

Many soon backed away nervously.

In the Republican Party’s official response to President Biden’s State of the Union address, Ms. Britt delivered a jarring speech that toggled between an increasingly strained cheerfulness and a fierce glare as she gave ominous warnings about illegal immigration.

Ms. Britt, 42, has been seen as a rising Republican star and floated as a possible running mate for former President Donald J. Trump . But in the biggest moment of her fledgling political career, she delivered a tonally uneven speech that was made more unusual by the setting of her own house in Montgomery, Ala., where she sat at her kitchen table and painted a dark picture of an America in decline.

“Our commander in chief is not in command,” Ms. Britt said. “The free world deserves better than a dithering and diminished leader.”

Her comments were in line with messages Republicans have increasingly used to criticize Mr. Biden at the start of the election year, but her 17-minute speech seemed likely to be remembered more for her disconcerting performance. She spoke in grim detail about a child victim of sex trafficking by drug cartels and the recent killing of a Georgia nursing student in which a Venezuelan migrant has been charged.

“That could’ve been my daughter,” Ms. Britt said. “It could’ve been yours.”

Previous State of the Union rebuttals have been delivered from behind a lectern in official settings, but Ms. Britt chose a domestic backdrop, trying to underscore her argument that Mr. Biden represents a threat to prosperity for American families.

But the scene seemed to confuse viewers on social media, where Ms. Britt was mocked by some for using a dramatic, breathy voice to deliver critiques of the president.

“Under his administration, families are worse off — our communities are less safe, and our country is less secure,” she said. “I just wish he understood what real families are facing around kitchen tables just like this one.”

Mr. Trump praised her speech.

“Katie Britt was a GREAT contrast to an Angry, and obviously very Disturbed, ‘President,’” he wrote on his social media site. “She was compassionate and caring, especially concerning Women and Women’s Issues. Her conversation on Migrant Crime was powerful and insightful. Great job Katie!”

Katie Britt walking in a hallway in Washington.

Ms. Britt won her first public office in 2022, becoming the first female senator elected in Alabama and the youngest Republican woman elected to the chamber. Speaker Mike Johnson noted in announcing that she would give the State of the Union response that she was the “only current Republican mom of school-age kids serving in the Senate.”

Her selection made for a stark contrast with Mr. Biden, 81, the nation’s oldest president, who is facing skepticism within his party about whether he is too old for a second term.

She also symbolized the latest Republican attempt to broaden the appeal of a party represented overwhelmingly in Washington by white men.

Last year, the Republican response was given by Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders of Arkansas, a former Trump White House press secretary, who became the nation’s youngest governor when she took office early last year. The previous Republican responses to Mr. Biden’s speech came from Gov. Kim Reynolds, Iowa’s first female governor, and Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only Black Republican in the chamber.

Ms. Britt repeatedly brought up families and her children in her speech.

“The country we know and love seems to be slipping away — it feels like the next generation will have fewer opportunities, and less freedom, than we did,” she said. “I worry my own children may not even get a shot at living their American dreams.”

Ms. Britt is, at first glance, an unlikely vice-presidential contender for Mr. Trump. She rose to the Senate within the business-friendly establishment wing of the Republican Party that he has driven from power.

She served as chief executive of the Business Council of Alabama, the state’s chamber of commerce, and as a former chief of staff to former Senator Richard Shelby, Alabama’s longest serving senator.

But Ms. Britt has been on Mr. Trump’s radar since August 2021, when she was at the end of a receiving line to shake the former president’s hand during a Republican gathering in Alabama.

Ms. Britt, then a candidate for Senate, introduced the former president to her husband, Wesley Britt, noting that he played professional football for the New England Patriots, whose billionaire owner, Robert Kraft, is close to Mr. Trump, according to two people familiar with the exchange.

Even though Mr. Trump had already endorsed her primary opponent, Representative Mo Brooks, Ms. Britt would tell Mr. Trump that she deserved his endorsement instead.

Seven months later, in March 2022, Mr. Trump withdrew his endorsement as Mr. Brooks dropped in the polls. He backed Ms. Britt, calling her “an incredible fighter for the people of Alabama,” less than two weeks before her runoff election with Mr. Brooks in June.

Democrats seized on Ms. Britt’s selection for the Republican response as they try to make abortion rights and women’s issues central campaign topics.

Last month, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos should be considered children, imperiling access in the state to fertility treatments like in vitro fertilization. Ms. Britt, who has said that she believes life begins at conception , came out in support of access to I.V.F. after the ruling.

Ms. Britt, along with most Senate Republicans, voted this year against a breakthrough bipartisan bill to crack down on immigration while providing new aid to Ukraine.

On foreign affairs, she argued that Mr. Biden’s “strategy of appeasement” had led to chaos and turmoil around the world.

Ms. Britt, along with a small majority of Republicans, voted against an aid package to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan that ultimately passed the Senate.

Earlier on Thursday, Ms. Britt’s team distributed talking points that promoted her speech by comparing it to some of the most famous oratory in the nation’s history and urging fellow Republicans to praise the Alabama senator for coming across “like America’s mom.”

“His speech was tone deaf,” the talking points declared, before either Mr. Biden or Ms. Britt had spoken. “Hers was the perfect pitch.”

Jonathan Swan contributed reporting.

Michael C. Bender is a Times political correspondent covering Donald J. Trump, the Make America Great Again movement and other federal and state elections. More about Michael C. Bender

Kayla Guo covers Congress for The New York Times as the 2023-24 reporting fellow based in Washington. More about Kayla Guo

Our Coverage of the State of the Union

In a raucous state of the union address, president biden sought to reassure americans that at 81, he is ready for a second term..

Biden’s Performance: The president was feisty   and displayed a newly found solemnity and blunt combativeness . Republicans jeered  from their seats. And Democrats enthusiastically cheered their presidential nominee, even as a few aired their grievances about the war in Gaza .

A Contrast With Trump: In his speech, Biden launched a series of fiery attacks  against former President Donald Trump, a competitor whom he did not mention by name but made clear was a dire threat to American democracy  and to  stability in the world .

Middle East Crisis: During the State of the Union, the president announced the construction of a port to deliver aid to Gaza. That decision, as well as the  authorization of aid airdrops  on the territory, raised uncomfortable questions  about America’s role in the war.

Seeking a Tricky Balance: As he spoke to Congress, Biden tried to demonstrate that he could be tough on the border without demonizing immigrants .

A Rare Mention: Biden briefly referenced a topic  that he has often been reluctant to embrace: marijuana. His words could signal a move toward promoting the efforts he has made to liberalize cannabis policy.

Style Choices: Democratic women in suffragist white , Marjorie Taylor Greene in MAGA red. The sartorial statement-making on the congressional floor was clear .

International Drug Trafficking: Analysis and Solution Essay

International drug traffic is one of the most significant problems of the 21 st century. It has many manifestations, both geographically and economically. Based on various studies, this process involves advanced technologies such as drones, the TOR virtual network, and various routes worldwide (Sanchez & Zhang, 2018). However, when analyzing this problem, a critical individual can understand this situation and how to deal with it. According to box maps, six nations (including Canada and the United States) dominate world rankings across the four-drug kinds (Sanchez & Zhang, 2018). New psychoactive substances and prescription drugs were marketed in nations with established pharmaceutical and chemical industries, whereas heroin and cocaine markets were determined to be nearly retail-based globally (Sanchez & Zhang, 2018). Thus, the immediate solution would be to legalize light drug products and create a system to counter the existing illegal structure in all its manifestations with rehabilitation centers.

The Tor Network has lately developed as a cyber-based dimension of the drug trade as globalization processes continue to alter patterns in drug trafficking activities throughout the world. This trend used geo-visualization and exploratory geographical data analysis to conduct heroin, cocaine, and novel psychoactive substance distributions (Sanchez & Zhang, 2018). Furthermore, prescription pharmaceuticals marketed on Agora, the Tor Network’s most significant international marketplace, are a compelling illustration of this method (Sanchez & Zhang, 2018). As a result, specific software and a decentralized structure ensure that customers do not connect directly with the seller, warehouse, or any other hierarchical parts of the European drug market (Sanchez & Zhang, 2018). According to global Moran’s I testing, drugs coming from Europe were randomly dispersed, proving the conclusion described above (Sanchez & Zhang, 2018). On the other side, a robust drug market may be created by developing an efficient system that protects both customers’ and dealers’ anonymity. Age limitations, moral norms, and a particular treatment program for persons suffering from significant drug addictions should be critical aspects of this internet platform. Creating a counterbalancing mechanism in this approach will thus have a long-term beneficial tendency.

Identifying and influencing the primary centers of drug trafficking diversion processes is another crucial problem component. This notion is dependent on the manifestations and significance of hidden resilience in the lives of Latin American youths involved in drug trafficking (Pessoa et al., 2017). Various studies, for example, address the necessity to develop a theoretical-methodological resilience framework based on the reality that Latin Americans experience (Pessoa et al., 2017). They also draw attention to the consequences of the idea of hidden resilience for adolescents and young people who are socially excluded (Pessoa et al., 2017). As a result, such research might be helpful in determining how to implement the system mentioned above.

The essential findings of such studies should be obtained to give a remedy. A sample of teenage and young adult tales is included in these works, and it is understood how drug trafficking might affect adolescent life (Pessoa et al., 2017). Based on these views, one can argue that the lack of an alternative is the underlying rationale for many essential components of the criminal justice system (Pessoa et al., 2017). This problem may be handled by establishing a functioning rehabilitation system for young people in Latin America, where they can learn a new profession (Pessoa et al., 2017). Furthermore, providing people with the chance to operate in legal organizations to distribute mild narcotic drugs after they reach the age of majority is the most effective approach (Pessoa et al., 2017). Such a strategy would not result in rejection or a relative lack of options, which would improve the system’s performance. Consequently, this component of the system will effectively solve the majority of drug trafficking issues.

The advent of new theoretical notions in international security studies fueled the growth of the security agenda. One example is the Copenhagen School’s idea of securitization, which allows researchers to look at new risks to nations’ security and the policies that strive to solve them (Silva & Pereira, 2019). Based on this notion, various studies claim that the Brazilian government securitized drug trafficking between 2011 and 2016 (Silva & Pereira, 2019). In 2016, the situation reverted to the ‘politicization’ stage, as defined by the Copenhagen School (Silva & Pereira, 2019). As a result, the decree represented the beginning of a process in which Brazil’s security strategy was halted, removing the temporary and emergency nature of the ‘gata’ operations (Silva & Pereira, 2019). Furthermore, such studies look into the principles and character of the Brazilian government’s anti-drug-trafficking measures (Silva & Pereira, 2019). Following that, a suitable path might be built and developed in the future by re-empowering these processes with the implementation of a new system.

Transit routes for drug trafficking networks in Southeast Asia and abroad have grown significantly in recent years in Vietnam. Many foreign academics seek to discover drug trafficking organizations’ “to and through” Vietnam destinations and transit routes (Luong, 2019). The crossings over the Vietnam–Laos borderland span 2,340 kilometers are among the most dangerous (Luong, 2019). Thus, practical solutions may be developed by examining the supply-and-demand scales of illicit drugs in Vietnam from 2008 to the present within illegal drug trafficking in the mainland Southeast Asian area (Luong, 2019). For example, charting three major routes across Vietnam–Laos borderland provided some evidence for the “destination and transit route” arguments (Luong, 2019). As a result, it is possible to build a healthy alternative to the unlawful system by examining local drug trade routes across the world.

In conclusion, a healthy alternative for society can be created through a comprehensive analysis of the local drug traffic routes, the motivations of the units operating it, and an understanding of how the system works. Moreover, based on the data presented from various sources, work in the field of research on this issue has been actively pursued for many years. Such a trend has an apparent positive effect and makes it possible to fully appreciate the importance of the global problem. Ways of solving it and specific measures in different regions and countries require a considerable financial investment by the relevant international organizations. If an attempt is made to unify the process for all significant areas of drug trafficking, such a system will fail. However, creating a system with the efforts of thousands of researchers worldwide has a good chance of being implemented to save all those who suffer from the destructive influence of hard drugs.

Luong, H. T. (2019). Transnational drug trafficking across the Vietnam-Laos Border . Springer International Publishing.

This book describes local drug traffic routes on the Vietnam-Laos border, examining the methodologies and techniques used by the perpetrators. Its primary effectiveness lies in the fact that the approach used concerning local illicit system methods demonstrates the pathway proposed in the paper to create an alternative legal system for the distribution of light narcotic products.

Luong, H. (2020). Drug trafficking in the mainland Southeast Asian Region: The example of Vietnam’s shared borderland with Laos. International Annals of Criminology, 58 (1), 130-151. Web.

A paper by the same author adds to drug trafficking in Vietnam, shedding light on the details of the authorities’ attempts to interrupt such activities. Moreover, the analysis here is from a forensic perspective, which increases the level of reference to accurate data and cases.

Pessoa, A. S. G., Coimbra, R. M., Noltemeyer, A., & Bottrell, D. (2017). The applicability of hidden resilience in the lives of adolescents involved in drug trafficking. Vulnerable children and youth in Brazil (pp. 247-260). Springer, Cham. Web.

This article describes in detail the psychiatric experience of young people in Brazil who fall into the world of drug trafficking. From the data presented here, it is possible to create an effective system of rehabilitation, also embedded in the thesis of this essay.

Sanchez, G. E., & Zhang, S. X. (2018). Rumors, encounters, collaborations, and survival: The migrant smuggling–drug trafficking nexus in the US Southwest. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science , 676 (1), 135-151. Web.

Sanches and Zhang’s work aggregates diverse information of varying degrees of reliability, demonstrating the current drug trafficking situation exploiting migrants in the US Southwest. The cyber-communication methods described here through the TOR network are among the key to today’s criminal organizations.

Silva, C. C. V., & Pereira, A. E. (2019). International security and new threats: Securitisation and desecuritisation of drug trafficking at the Brazilian borders. Contexto Internacional , 41 , 209-234. Web.

This work is one of the few in the academic space that specializes not in the problems of drug trafficking but in the mistakes of state apparatuses in countering it. The new problems described here, caused by the moderate resistance policies of the world’s organizations, demonstrate the relevance of the essay’s thesis.

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Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez guilty in drug trafficking case

The former two-term president was convicted on weapons and drug-related charges after being extradited to the US.

A courtroom sketch of prosecutors interrogating Juan Orlando Hernandez in court.

Former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, 55, has been found guilty in a New York federal courtroom of participating in a scheme to ship cocaine through his country and into the United States.

On Friday, a jury in the Southern District Court of New York rendered its verdict after two weeks of argument, convicting Hernandez on charges related to drug trafficking and weapons possession.

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He was convicted on all three criminal counts he faced: the first for conspiring to import cocaine into the US, the second for carrying “machine guns and destructive devices” to help in cocaine shipments, and the third for conspiring to use those weapons to pursue his aims.

The latter two charges carry maximum sentences of life in prison.

US prosecutors had accused Hernandez of partnering “with some of the largest cocaine traffickers in the world” and using his public office to protect shipments passing through Honduras.

In exchange, the prosecutors argued, Hernandez received bribes to further his political career. In one instance, as Hernandez campaigned for his first term as president in 2013, prosecutors said he accepted approximately $1m from Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzman, the leader of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, a powerful drug smuggling syndicate.

Hernandez has denied the charges against him and has instead sought to bolster his image as a tough-on-crime politician, known for “mano dura” or “iron fist” tactics.

His defence team likewise tried to frame damaging testimony as attempts by drug traffickers and other criminals to get lighter sentencing in their own cases.

“They all have motivation to lie, and they are professional liars,” Hernandez said of the prosecution witnesses.

Defence lawyer Renato Stabile used his closing argument this week to make the case that his client had “been wrongfully charged”.

But the prosecution painted Hernandez as using the “full power and strength of the state” to transform Honduras into “a cocaine superhighway to the United States”.

Hernandez’s two terms in office, from 2014 to 2022, had been marked by a series of scandals, and his trial in the US was closely watched by Hondurans at home and in the country’s diaspora, with some appearing outside the court to demonstrate.

“The people suffered so much in Honduras,” one courtroom attendee, Cecilio Alfaro, told Al Jazeera last week. “There’s going to be justice, divine justice.”

Known by his initials JOH, Hernandez campaigned on the slogan of “una vida mejor” — a better life for Hondurans. He also pledged to crack down on drug trafficking within the country’s borders, using his inauguration speech to deliver a message to cocaine smugglers: “The party is over.”

But quickly, his own administration became embroiled in controversy, including allegations he had dipped into funds for the country’s Social Security Institute for personal gain.

US prosecutors said he also used his office to protect his younger brother, former Honduran Congressman Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernandez, from arrest and extradition. The US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) ultimately arrested Tony Hernández in 2018, while his brother was still president.

In 2021, Tony Hernandez was sentenced to life in prison in a US federal court for his role in distributing 185 tonnes of cocaine.

Only weeks after leaving office in February 2022, former President Hernandez surrendered to US authorities who had surrounded his residence in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa. He was extradited that April.

In a news release after Friday’s conviction, the United States Attorney’s Office hailed the jury’s decision as sending a message of justice to “all corrupt politicians who would consider a similar path”.

“Juan Orlando Hernandez had every opportunity to be a force for good in his native Honduras,” said US Attorney Damian Williams. “Instead, he chose to abuse his office and country for his own personal gain.”

Attorney General Merrick Garland likewise said Hernandez had “abused his position” to transform Honduras into a “narco-state”.

“As today’s conviction demonstrates, the Justice Department is disrupting the entire ecosystem of drug trafficking networks that harm the American people, no matter how far or how high we must go,” Garland said in a statement on Friday.


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