A bulky turtle was rescued on November 19 by the U.S. Coast Guard, the maritime service reported yesterday. It was in a surprising situation: entangled in the ropes of a cache of 26 bundles of cocaine totaling 800 kilograms.
Cutter Thetis returned on Sunday to its base in Key West (Florida) after a 68-day patrol mission along the Pacific coast of Central America, where the turtle trapped between drug packages was found in international waters. The value of the cocaine shipment on the black market was 53 million dollars. The Coast Guard believes the stash was thrown overboard from a speedboat by drug traffickers in a police pursuit.
A military plane spotted the stash floating and the U.S. Coast Guard sent a reconnaissance boat. The officers found the rare scene and got down to work to carefully cut the ropes and not damage the turtle’s fins or neck. Because of the marks on the neck, the animal, a male, had been imprisoned for at least a couple of days.
The mission on which the American ship was working is Operation Hammer, an international program between the U.S., European and Latin American countries aimed at combating drug trafficking networks on the Pacific coast of Central America, one of the main smuggling routes from South America, the origin of cocaine, and the U.S., the largest consumer of this drug.
During this last operational phase, in which Cutter Thetis participated for more than two months, Operation Hammer seized 6.7 tons of cocaine, valued at $135 million.
There is about a 90% probability that the distressing moment experienced by the turtle in the immensity of the Pacific Ocean originated, some time ago, in some clandestine cultivation in the Andean mountains of Colombia. According to data from the DEA, the U.S. anti-narcotics agency, 92% of the coca that arrived in Colombia in 2016 was planted and produced in laboratories.
Cocaine consumption is growing again in the U.S., and in Colombia, the cultivation and processing of the drug is increasing. According to a White House document, coca cultivation in Colombia rose 18% in 2016 to 188,000 hectares, the highest level since 1994 a year after the Colombian police shot down the biggest coca capo, Pablo Escobar, in Medellín.
The peace agreement reached in November 2016 between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas could contribute to a decrease in coca cultivation, as the armed organization played a major role in the drug trafficking chain, but according to the DEA the forecast, at least for 2018, is that the U.S. will receive an even greater amount of cocaine sent from Colombia.
In September, Donald Trump said he was “seriously considering” ceasing to consider Colombia a partner in the fight against drugs because of the “extraordinary” growth of the cocoa industry in its territory.
While the drug that kills most in the U.S. is heroin alone or cut with illegal laboratory opiates cocaine consumption is on the rise. In 2015, according to an official survey, 1.9 million Americans over the age of 12 were cocaine users. In 2007 they were, according to DEA data, 906,000 less than half.
In the midst of this complex network of human, economic, political and policy problems, the innocent Pacific turtle was paralyzed until its release.