Colombia: Banana growers in Urabá victims of narcos

Two aspects are of concern to the banana sector of Urabá after the discovery in Europe of cargoes of the fruit containing cocaine: the criminal methods implemented by the drug traffickers and the stigma that this can create for the industry and the region.

The revelation of the governor of Antioquia, Luis Pérez, had repercussions for Urabaan industries. "This year, almost 14 tonnes of cocaine have been detected in Belgium and the Netherlands in containers coming from Colombia, and out of those, 11 came from Turbo, Urabá," he said.

The president added that "the drug is taken north of the Caribbean or via the Chocó, getting into Belén de Bajirá. There they put the cocaine in banana boxes and containers."

Pérez praised the work of the Navy and Police in the port of Turbo, but urged the banana entrepreneurs of Urabá to implement strategies to inspect the boxes and containers in which the fruit is packaged and thus prevent cargoes with cocaine from being exported by Urabá.

Banana producers victimised again
While ratifying their support for the authorities as regards the controls and cargo inspections, Urabá's banana entrepreneurs warned of the negative repercussions that the Governor's complaint may have.

Through Augura, an association that brings together the majority of banana companies in the region, they claimed to be themselves victims of those who introduce the drug in the banana batches.

According to Juan Camilo Restrepo, president of the organization, the owners of banana companies are complying with the standards and requirements established by law and the provisions of the Dian, Police and ICA (Colombian Agricultural Institute).

"For decades, the banana sector has been a victim of illegal groups. This kind of news (the discovery of cocaine in Europe) revealed by the governor to the public is what causes the region and its agribusiness to become victims," he stated.

In order to illustrate the importance of the banana sector for Urabá, Restrepo reported that it generates more than 800 million dollars of currency for Colombia, as well as 23,000 direct jobs and 120,000 indirect ones. He noted that 70% of the economy in the region revolves around the banana agro-industry.

"The best way to deal with illegality and to end stigmatization is by generating good news and opportunities and by having more institutional control," he pointed out.

Difficult to find
According to the police commander of Urabá, Colonel Luis Eduardo Soler, it remains to be determined whether the 11 tonnes of drugs discovered in Europe were shipped from Urabá or were loaded elsewhere.

"It isn't always shipped from the place itself. Some of it may have been loaded in Cartagena, Barranquilla or at some stop in the Pacific. You have to check where the container came from," he explained.

Colonel Soler admitted that the controls to detect drugs in the containers are not strict. "They are carried out, as in any port of the world, in a random way."

"Nowhere in the world will every container undergo strict controls, because there is just too much cargo. In Urabá, which has small ports, it would be necessary to have an unimaginable number of agents."

Urabá has, according to figures revealed by the official, an extension of 35,000 hectares in which there are more than 425 banana farms. He added that between Apartadó, Chigorodó, Mutatá, Carepa and Turbo alone there are about 200 kilometres of coast.

"The probability of a shipment being contaminated (having drugs placed inside) is very high, because it is not only done when the fruit leaves the farms, but also on tracks, canals, the gulf, etc.," he concluded.


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