From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]





Catch of the day: Cocaine
BY Jonathan Franklin  /  February 09, 2008

At first glance, Bluefields in Nicaragua looks like any other rum-
soaked, Rastafarian-packed, hammock-infested Caribbean paradise. But
Bluefields has a secret.

People here don’t have to work. Every week, sometimes every day, 35kg
sacks of cocaine drift in from the sea. The economy of this entire
town of 50,000 tranquil souls is addicted to cocaine.

Bluefields is a creation of the gods of geography. Located halfway
between the cocaine labs of Colombia and the 300 million noses of the
United States, Bluefields is ground zero for cocaine transportation.
Nicaraguan waters are near Colombian territorial limits, making the
area extremely popular with cocaine smugglers using very small, very
fast fishing boats.

The US military calls them “go fast boats”, which is a bureaucratic
way of describing these mini-water-rockets. Typically these 12m boats
have 800 horsepower of outboard motors bolted to the stern. A Porsche
911 Turbo, by comparison, has 485 horsepower.

While they are very fast, they are also very visible to the array of
radars set up by roaming US spy planes, Coastguard cutters and
helicopters which regularly monitor the speeding cocaine traffickers.

“With night vision equipment, I have seen a lit cigarette from two
miles,” a US Navy pilot said. “Or the back light from their GPS
screen? It looks like a billboard.”

When the Americans get close, the traffickers toss the cocaine
overboard, both to eliminate evidence and lighten their load in an
escape attempt.

“They throw most of it off,” says a Lt Commander in the US Coastguard.
“I have been on four interdictions and we have confiscated about 6000
pounds [2720kg] of cocaine, and I’d say equal that much was dumped
into the ocean.”

Those bales of cocaine float, and the currents bring them west right
into the chain of islands, beaches and cays which make up the huge
lagoons that surround Bluefields on Nicaragua’s Atlantic coast.

“There are no jobs here, unemployment is 85 per cent,” says Moises
Arana, who was mayor of Bluefields from 2001 to 2005.

“It is sad to say, but the drugs have made contributions. Look at the
beautiful houses, those mansions come from drugs. We had a women come
into the local electronics store with a milk bucket stuffed full of
cash. She was this little Miskito [native] woman and she had $80,000.”

Hujo Sugo, a historian of Bluefields, says the floating coke has
created a new local hobby.

“People here now go beachcombing for miles, they walk until the find
packets. Even the lobster fisherman now go out with the pretence of
fishing but really they are looking for la langosta blanca – the white

Given the remote setting and lack of infrastructure, there are few
roads, few cars and the biggest shop in Bluefields sells nothing more
sophisticated than a washing machine or TV set.

So what do the locals do with all this cocaine? They sell it to
travelling buyers who cruise the coast, disguised as used clothes

“We know there are small shop owners who do this,” says Yorlene
Orozco, the local judge. “We are talking about people without a
profession, no home, no job. One day later they have a new car, go to
the casino and are building a home that costs I don’t know how many
thousands of dollars.”

Law enforcement in Bluefields is practically invisible “I just had a
Swiss tourist tell me that when she went to the supermarket they tried
to sell her cocaine,” says Orozco.

The police and Navy have few resources and less trust from the local
public. Bluefields is effectively an anarchist nation – no Government,
no organised institutions and the rules are made by community groups.

Given the massive amount of cocaine in town, violence is surprisingly
rare. Gunfights are nearly unheard of and most of the town seems to
lounge around or play baseball all day and then erupt into a frenzy of
energy by late afternoon, fuelled by Flor de Cana, a Nicaraguan rum,
fresh fish, an endless supply of native oysters, and “the white

“Down by Monkey Point, a family found an entire boat … they stashed
it and bought up houses all over town. It was 57 sacks [about
1995kg],” says Jah Boon, a local Rasta man. “Those people have money
and still have coke buried in them hills. It is another way of having
money in the bank.”

At a local price of $3500 per kg, the typical 35kg sack nets a cash
sale price of $122,500, which by all accounts is spent immediately.

“Last time bags and bags washed up, everyone [felt like] a
millionaire, but that money does not last.” explains Helen, who runs a
university research institute in Bluefields. Asked how the locals
unload their cash, she said: “Beer, beer, beer. You should see the
amount they drink here. Go to the pier and see how much alcohol goes
out to the islands.”

“When the drugs come in, everyone is happy, the banks, the stores,
everyone has cash.”

Arana, the former mayor, recalled one month when the village bought
28,000 cases of beer.

With literally tonnes of cocaine buried in the hills, stashed in yards
and piled up around town, why doesn’t the Colombian mafia storm into
these remote communities and repossess their coke bales by coercion or
brute force?

“Hell no,” says Peter, a local businessman. “The Miskito [local
Indians] are guerrillas. They have been through war. They have AK-47s
and up.”

The US Drug Enforcement Agency, in a report to Congress, noted: “A
unique historical situation and civil conflicts have left Nicaragua
with a tradition of armed rural groups and institutionalised violence
that greatly complicates counter-drug enforcement.”

For hundreds of years, the local Miskito Indians have fished this
stretch of the Caribbean. They are master sailors, capable and brave.
They endured hurricanes and storms back when GPS still meant “God
Please Save me”.

Many of their 4000 small fishing boats are still wooden canoes with
sails made of coloured plastic, hand-sewn and fragile. But the pros
have gone Japanese and switched to the 200-horsepower Yamaha outboard
motor, a six-cylinder beast that is the region’s connection to the

Because the Miskito often live in isolated communities, they maintain
their own rules, independence and traditions, including the belief
that whatever treasures arrive in a river or from the sea are gifts,
blessed by God and to be enjoyed and shared. That includes the
Caribbean lobster and the white Colombian variety.

The cocaine business is reshaping the face of these Indian
communities. Tasbapauni Beach is now nicknamed “Little Miami”, because
so much cocaine washes up on its long shoreline that it has fuelled a
construction boom. Luxurious oceanfront condos protected by security
guards now sit side by side with wooden fishing shacks.

“If shit washes up on your shore it belongs to that family. Every
family owns their turf,” said a Miskito fisherman.

But when a fisherman finds white lobster the entire village shares the
treasure, with a percentage going to the community, a smaller
percentage to the church and the majority split among the crew of the
small boat that found the loot.

“It is like a municipal tax,” says Sergio Leon, a local reporter who
has been writing about the drug situation in Bluefields for many
years. “The schools and churches are not built by the Government, that
money comes from the fishermen and their finds.”

Drug money has been used to build a school and replace the church
roof. “The pastors here get mad when they don’t get their cut from the
find,” says Francisco a court official. “If a member of the
congregation has found 15kg, the church calculates 15 times $3500,
that’s $52,500, and at 10 per cent they are saying: where’s the

At night, Bluefields wakes up. The locals wander down to Midnight
Dream, a reggae bar that locals have nicknamed Baghdad Ranch because
of the surreal nature of its party scene. Young black men wear
baseball hats, NBA sleeveless shirts and Nike Air sneakers. They are
bedecked in gold chains.

My new drinking buddy says: “I got protection,” and lifts his Houston
Rockets NBA shirt to show off the butt of a pistol. “You won’t get
thieved here.”

Tribal music echoes from across the bay while darkened skiffs navigate
the shallow waters. Half-sunken boats dot the horizon. Blown in by
Hurricane Joan in 1988, these rusty wrecks are now used as guide buoys
for captains entering the pier and as mini-apartments by locals.

The waiter offers carne de tortuga – a grilled slice of endangered
Hawksbill Sea Turtle. While locals insist they only slaughter the
older specimens, that did little to ease my sensation that here in
Bluefields pleasure trumps morality.

When the lyrics scream out “I feel so high, I can touch the sky”,
practically on cue the three girls at the next table pile coke on the
back of their ebony hands and snort openly, laughing. Then they start
the maypole dance the traditional fertility festival for this month,
May, which has evolved into a wickedly sexy dirty-dancing routine. A
stunning line of 1.8m black women swirl on the dance floor. A Rasta
man stumbles by, his nose white, clumps of coke stuck in his beard.

This party is all paid for by the white lobster, which sells for $5 a
gram. “Those guys over at that table, they are Miskito, they found
seven bags,” explains the waiter with the hint of jealousy usually
reserved for lottery winners. “He will buy a couple of ranches, two
boats and have someone else fish for him.”

As the night progresses, the winners slowly disappear behind a wall of
Tona beer bottles. No one ever seems to get tired.

{For the well-being of individuals, some names and locations have
been changed in this report.}

Humble town living in the slow lane

Bluefields is a humble town. Electricity is sporadic: the main
generator has been under repair for nine months.

Residents remain so isolated from Central America they speak English
and feel closer to Kingston than the Nicaraguan capital of Managua. To
get here the traveller must fly a 25-year-old plane that looks like a
fat pigeon and doesn’t fly much faster. The outside of the fuselage is
tagged with instructions on how to rescue victims after a crash “Cut
Here for Easy Entry”.

Even today, the Nicaraguan central government classifies Bluefields as
an “Autonomous Area”, meaning the government pretty much ignores the

At the local casino the payoffs are far less if the bet is placed in
Nicaraguan currency, the cordoba. A roulette win, for example, pays
30-1 if the bet is in cordoba and 36-1 if the original bet was made in

“We don’t even use the Nicaraguan currency here, to the South we use
the colon (from Costa Rica), in the North we use the lempira
(Honduran) and everywhere else it is the dollar,” said Eugenio, a
local fisherman.

“We only see politicians when there is an election – or a hurricane.”

The daily schedule rarely changes in Bluefields. The light comes up at
5am though there aren’t a whole lot of people who notice the town is
in slow motion. Streams of children in pressed blue and white uniforms
amble off to the Moravian school, their mothers and grandmothers
spreading the scent of fresh coconut bread through the village.

The shops sell rum, bananas, sneakers and baseball hats. A man sits by
his store, cuts the calluses off his feet with a small knife, then
immediately slices into a fresh coconut. The loudest noise is the
shriek of a magpie or the yap of a dog.

Snagging shrimp and trapping lobster are the principal – maybe the
only form – of legitimate work in Bluefields. But by all reasonable
observations, work itself is barely considered legitimate.

Why not just enjoy nature’s bounty? With so much fresh fish, coconut,
bananas and mangoes, the idea of sweating or long-term planning seems
foreign. Especially when the daily heat shoots into the upper 90s, and
a two-block walk leaves you drenched in sweat. About the only work
tool needed in Bluefields is a Yamaha outboard motor. Everyone who
wants to search for white lobster has a V6 Yamaha 200 horsepower
engine. Often these machines are racked up side by side on the back of
a 25-foot fishing canoe so the lightweight wooden or fibreglass craft
can practically fly.

By noon, the streets are filled with men playing cards, laying their
bets on a card table, and sitting on stools made out of used Yamaha or
Johnson outboard motors. On the streets, one man walks around with a
bag of white powder the size of a golf ball, dipping his fingers in
like he was snacking on popcorn or chips. Casual to an extreme, he
strolls up to his friends who dip in for a snack.

Outside the Bluefields prison, two maximum security prisoners have
been brought out to the street – no handcuffs – and told to cut the
grass with huge machetes. These prisoners are each serving a 30-year
term for murder, but they hardly work and instead idly chat with
pedestrians, occasionally whack the grass but usually just watch the
girls and life go by.

Most of the guards are inside a classroom studying Nicaraguan history
with their classmates, the inmates. For the more hands-on prisoners, a
workshop churns out jewellery, crafted chairs and green and yellow
Rasta-style beanies.


Bluefields is a pirate town on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua.
Children play their games in the streets, shooting craps alongside the
unemployed, who sing to staccato beats hammered out on buckets and
doorposts, drinking rum in the sun. The town and its frequently robbed
banks are no stranger to life on the outlands.

In 1610, the city’s namesake, Dutch pirate Henry Bluefeldt found
refuge in the area, repairing his fleet with the aid of the native
Kukras. For the next century Bluefields would become a haven for Dutch
and British pirates. By the 18th century, the British had cultivated
steady trading through Bluefields, of bananas and Jamaican slaves.

When the area was taken over by the Spanish, the darker-skinned
natives of Bluefields were neglected by and left out of the
government. Though it had no real stakes in the revolution during the
1980’s, much fighting between the Sandanistas and the American-funded
Contras happened on Bluefields soil. Both sides would force M-16’s on
the native youth, giving them no choice but fight or die.

In 1988, Bluefields was devastated by Hurricane Joan, which left left
the region in ruins. These days Bluefields has an unemployment rate of
90%, and its ports are a major throughway of the Columbian drug trade.
The pirate roots of the city run deep, as does its reggae roots.
Despite its poor conditions and poverty, Bluefields’ culture remains
tall and proud. The long era of Jamaican slave trading through the
area fostered a deep connection to island music, making this frontier
town the reggae mecca of Central America.




Reverend Horton Heat – Bales of Cocaine

Well, I was workin’ on my farm ’bout 1982,
Pullin’ up some corn and a little carrot, too
When two low-flying aeroplanes, ’bout a hundred feet high
Dropped a bunch o’ bales o’ somethin’, some hit me in the eye…

So I cut a bale open, an’ man was I surprised
Bunch o’ large sized baggies, with big white rocks inside
So I took a little sample to my crazy brother Joe
He sniffed it up and kicked his heels, said, “Horton, that’s some

Bales of cocaine, fallin’ from low-flyin’ plane
I don’t know who done dropped ’em, but I thank ’em just the same
Bales of cocaine, fallin’ like a foriegn rain
My life changed completely by the low-flyin’ planes

So I loaded up them bales in my pick-em-up truck,
Headed west for Dallas, where I would try my luck
I didn’t have a notion if I could sell ’em there,
But, thirty minutes later, I was a millionaire…

Bales of cocaine, fallin’ from low-flyin’ plane
I don’t know who done dropped ’em, but I thank ’em just the same
Bales of cocaine, fallin’ like a foriegn rain
My life changed completely by the low-flyin’ planes

And now I am a rich man, but I’m still a farmer, too
But I sold my farm in Texas, bought a farm down in Peru
And when get so homesick, I think I’m goin’ insane,
I travel back to Texas in a low-flyin’ plane…

Bales of cocaine, fallin’ from low-flyin’ plane
I don’t know who done dropped ’em, but I thank ’em just the same
Bales of cocaine, fallin’ like a foriegn rain
My life changed completely by the low-flyin’ planes


Cocaine galore! Villagers live it up on profits from ‘white lobster’
BY Rory Carroll  /  October 09 2007

Washed-up bales of drugs bring millions of dollars to poor fishing

Centuries of troubles have bobbed on the waves off the Mosquito Coast:
Christopher Columbus, the Spanish conquest, pirates, slave ships. For
the fishing villages scattered across these remote central American
shores there was seldom reason to welcome visits from the outside

But that was before the “white lobster”, and before everything
changed. Now the villagers rise at first light to scan the horizon in
hope of seeing a very different type of intruder.

What they are looking for, and what they have coyly euphemised, are
big, bulging bags of Colombian cocaine. A combination of law
enforcement, geography and ocean currents has washed tonnes of the
drug, and millions of dollars, into what was one of the Caribbean’s
most desolate and isolated regions. Villages that once eked an
existence on shrimp and red-tinged lobster have been transformed. In
place of thatched wooden huts there are brick houses, mansions and
satellite dishes.

“They consider it a blessing from God. You see people all day just
walking up and down the beaches keeping a lookout to sea,” said Louis
Perez, the police chief in Bluefields, the main port on Nicaragua’s
Caribbean coast.

Colombian speedboats hug the coastline so closely that this narco-
route to the US is known as the “country road”. With 800-horsepower
outboard motors, the so-called “go fasts” can usually outrun US and
Nicaraguan patrols. But on occasion they are intercepted, not least
when US snipers hit their engines. “Then they throw the coke overboard
to get rid of the evidence,” said a European drug enforcement official
based in the region. “Other times it’s because they run out of fuel or
have an accident.”

Currents carry the bales towards the shore. A decade ago many of the
indigenous Miskito people had not even heard of cocaine. Some 15
people in the village of Karpwala are said to have died after
mistaking the contents of a bale for baking powder.

That innocence is long gone. Colombian traffickers and Nicaraguan
middlemen trawl villages offering finders $4,000 (£1,960) a kilo, said
Major Perez – seven times less than the US street value but a fortune
to a fisherman.

Tasbapauni, a sleepy hamlet a three-hour motorboat ride from
Bluefields, is a cocaine version of Whisky Galore!, the 1940s tale of
a Hebridean island which salvages a shipwrecked cargo of booze and
plays cat-and-mouse with the authorities to keep it.

Posh hotels

Some locals who used to be in rags live it up at posh hotels in
Bluefields and Managua, others stock up on wide-screen TVs and
expensive beer. With its creole English and African slave descendants,
the community feels more Jamaican than Nicaraguan. Its high-rolling
reputation has earned Tasbapauni the nickname Little Miami. That’s an
exaggeration. There is still plenty of poverty and barefoot children
and there are no roads or vehicles and little to break the silence
except lapping surf, clucking chickens and the occasional thud of a
falling coconut. But things are different. “Today the toiling is
easier. Life is plenty better than before,” said Percival Hebbert, 84,
a Moravian Church pastor and village leader. “The community is like
this: you find drugs, this one find drugs, the next one find drugs –
that money is stirring right here in the community, going round and

The white lobster was a blessing, he said, as long as the bonanza was
spent wisely. “Almost all you see with a good home, a good cement
home, those are the ones who find them things.”

The church had just installed a shiny white floor thanks to a donation
from a fisherman, Ted Hayman, who reputedly hauled in 220kg (485lb).
Mr Hayman chose the colours and tiles himself. “He’s a kind man,” said
Mr Hebbert.

He was grateful but lamented the church’s cut was not greater. “God
says that 10% of whatever you earn is his. But no one do that here.”
Villages further north oblige finders to give a tenth of the proceeds
to the church and at least another tenth to neighbours.

Mr Hayman, 37, Tasbapauni’s most “blessed” fisherman, has converted
his shack into a three-storey mansion with iron gates, a satellite
dish and architecture best described as narc-deco. A sign identifies
the residence as Hayman Hi.


Mr Hayman’s sister, Maria, 40, said cocaine was the source of the
wealth – and philanthropy. “Him always try to help the people. Him
help the sick, the widows, the church, anybody.”

A short stroll from Hayman Hi is a 30-strong army garrison tasked with
combating drug trafficking. It is as laid back as the rest of
Tasbapauni. You could not prosecute someone for becoming rich, said
the commander, Edwin Salmeron. “If we don’t capture them with the
drugs there’s nothing we can do.”

Given the poverty and decades of government neglect it was
“understandable but not justified” that the cocaine was sold on, said
Moises Arana, a former Bluefields mayor. “There is no shame. It’s
almost an innocence – they don’t understand the consequences.”

Increasingly, however, a dark side is emerging. Not all the cocaine is
shipped north. Some is turned into crack and sold locally, producing
the skinny, ragged youths who haunt Bluefields’ slums. The town jail
is crammed with alleged addicts and pushers awaiting trial.

“With crack you lose your pride, you lose your money, everything,”
said Randolph Carter, 50, a former addict. In 2004 traffickers shot
off his arm while looking for another addict who had reneged on a
promise to fuel their boat. “Cocaine is not a blessing. It can destroy
you,” said Mr Carter.

Corruption allows traffickers to buy their way out of trouble. In 2004
a gang took over Bluefields’ police station and cut the throats of
four officers. No one has been charged for what is assumed to be a
drug-related atrocity.

To many, however, cocaine promises deliverance from poverty. Marvin
Hoxton, 37, a lobster diver, once discovered a 72kg bale. Thieves
forced him to hand over 70kg at gunpoint but he sold the remainder for
$5,000. It lasted two months. “Drinking, dancing, women, the dollars
fly,” he rued.

Now broke and back living with his mother, Mr Hoxton had a plan: to
fill his wooden skiff with supplies and camp out on a remote beach for
six months. He will string a hammock between two coconut trees, listen
to his transistor radio and keep his eyes on the ocean.

“You can’t know when you might get it,” he said, staring at his beer,
as if mini-bales were floating inside the bottle. “You have to wait.
Wait for it to come.”

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