The Cocaine Route

Trafficking in cocaine is one of the most lucrative forms of business for organised crime groups. Shipping the illicit cargo across continents is dangerous, violent and involves considerable operational challenges. Over the past three decades criminal organisations have cast their net over a large geographical area, spanning the producer countries in the coca belt of Bolivia, Peru and Colombia to European consumer market. En route they make stop overs in the Caribbean region and West Africa, to evade control efforts and open new lines of business.

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In the Caribbean and Central America the flow of cocaine has intensified social tensions and accelerated the cycles of violence. In countries like Guatemala, El Salvador, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago the intentional homicide count is among the highest in the world. Along the route drugs spill into local markets, creating new pockets of problematic use and criminal economies. The laundering of illicit earnings has a distorting effect on national economies and compromises the financial sector. Weak governance systems are further undermined by widespread corruption. In the case of drugs, a typical scenario is that traffickers identify weaknesses in law enforcement systems and pay bribes or enlist other forms of corruption to facilitate the transportation of illicit drugs across borders and their sale on local markets.

Cocaine, as well as counterfeit goods, prescription medicines, protected species, and firearms are currently flowing freely across large parts of the world. There is a parallel flow of money gained by criminal enterprise that undermines governance structures and dislocates local economies. The efforts of authorities are restricted to the limits of their national territory, allowing organised crime groups to move and operate across borders with impunity.

The Cocaine Route Programme has been designed to support the cooperation of law enforcement and judicial authorities from West Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean in their fight against transnational criminal organisations. It consists of a series of interventions to build capacity to intercept illicit flows, enhance investigation skills, and facilitate communication between agencies in different countries.

With a budget of €50 million the Cocaine Route Programme is one of the European Union’s flagship programme in the fight against organised crime and the promotion of good governance and the rule of law in a multi regional context. It is a dynamic programme that builds on its achievements and is connected with other initiatives from the EU, its Member States and partners. At its heart are a series of activities that target transnational crime in different areas. Though run as stand alone activities they are part of a coherent strategy with a common objective.