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February 1, 2008 - Calgary Sun (CN AB)

Column: Cocaine Trade Tough To Snuff

By Bill Kaufmann

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

The scruffy undercover guys lingered near the door, well out of camera range.

Behind a pile of confiscated cocaine and cash at the front of the room, their boss was enjoying a rare very good day. Tellingly, even amid the fruits of some good police work, Staff Sgt. Monty Sparrow tempered his enthusiasm.

The take might be a week's worth or two of blow on city streets, it's hard to tell because there's just so much of it out there, he said.

Despite all their exertions and those of drug warriors in places such as Colombia, the price of coke in Calgary has come down from $40,000 a kilo eight years ago to as low as $25,000. The U.S. has blown $3 billion on drug eradication in Colombia since 2000 and the supply in el Norte just keeps creeping up.

A couple of days before the big Calgary bust was announced, the drug unit's Det. Doug Hudacin lamented developments at the drug's source that determines the fate of his efforts.

"Look at Colombia -- the country's funded by cocaine," he says. "They've built an army, schools, roads ... it's a business concern making billions a year tax-free.

"They have infinite budgets and we don't."

Hudacin was only referring to the drug cartels and guerrillas, but you could add pro-government paramilitaries to the mix.

In Afghanistan, government members supported by Canadian troops have a hand in some of the heroin heading this way from crops virtually wiped out during the Taliban era. Local cops brandishing those Support the Troops decals must be thrilled.

Cathy Prowse, who spent 25 years with the CPS including a stint with criminal intelligence, won't even dwell on how failed prohibition laws have further stacked the deck against our police.

"There's just too much money in it ... we have more supply than demand, though demand is good," is all she'll say.

While mustering admiration for her CPS colleagues is easy enough, Prowse, who left the force in 2003, offered a troubling synopsis of what they're up against.

Nailing street-level distributors is one thing.

Ultimately, local law enforcement is at the mercy of increasingly sophisticated and collaborative transnational "criminal business" networks, says Prowse.

"What we're seeing is co-operation of not just occidental or Latin American groups, but among all parts of the world, including Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe," says Prowse, who's done research on organized crime and even produced a handbook on criminal gangs she insists the CPS ignored in the mid-'90s.

"Players will come and go, but the structure stays."

In other words, what Calgarians and even police see in the local war on drugs is the tip of the iceberg.

"What we're seeing above the surface is very small ... once the structure is entrenched, you'll forever have these outbreaks of violence."

Caging transnational players is labour-intensive and once they've laundered their funds, "they're virtually impenetrable," she adds. "It's pretty discouraging."

Catapulting the violence is considered well worth the 8-10% cut of cocaine proceeds allotted to the local street gangsters, says Prowse.

Any hiatus in the gang wars, she adds, should be no comfort to Calgarians fearful of being caught in the crossfire. "Periods of calm are more like restructuring calm," says the ex-cop.

As for the drug war in South America, Prowse notes even pockets of success merely means cocaine producers set up shop in countries such as Bolivia and Peru.

That just contributes to the sensation Canadian police, including those in Calgary, "are sticking their fingers in a leaky dike," she says.

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