The world is in lockdown but Guinea-Bissau remains global drug hub

My recently released book, Pills, Powder and Smoke: Inside the Bloody War on Drugs, investigates the reality of the West African country of Guinea-Bissau and its central role as a cocaine transit hub. I further reported on the issue for Vice in late 2019.

Now, in a new report in the Portuguese newspaper Publico, that references my book, there’s evidence that drug smugglers and trafficking are still alive and well in Guinea-Bissau (despite the Coronavirus currently interrupting the drug supply chain). Here’s a translation of the Publico story (done by the UN in Guinea-Bissau):

Braima Seide Bá, sentenced last week to 16 years in prison, returned to Bissau and lives at the home of the new director of the public oil company, with links to drug trafficking. He is not the only one who has recently returned.

Portuguese-Guinean Braima Seide Bá is on the run with an international arrest warrant issued in September last year. Accused in Operation Navarra, the biggest drug seizure in Guinea-Bissau’s history (1869 kilos of cocaine), he was ultimately tried in absentia and sentenced, last week, to 16 years in prison for drug trafficking.

But if he was not in Bissau at the time of the trial, in January, Braima Seide Bá has already returned, however, to Guinea-Bissau and at the time of writing he was not even far from the court that sentenced him. According to what PUBLICO learnt from a source familiar with the process, the trafficker has a lot of support from figures currently in power and even resides at the home of the new director-general of the National Petroleum Research and Exploration Company (EP-Petroguin).

Danielson Francisco Gomes Ié, better known as Nick, was appointed to head EP-Petroguin on March 31 and the nomination even deserved a “Note of Repudiation” from the Social Renewal Party (PRS) – party that supports the Government de facto, appointed by the self-proclaimed President, Umaro Sissoco Embaló.

 “We vehemently repudiate the appointment of Mr. Danielson Francisco Gomes Ié,” says the communiqué of the party founded by the late former President Kumba Ialá, because “it cannot, therefore, be admitted that he be appointed to head such an institution, representing the resources of the Guinean state, a person who has public attitudes absolutely contrary to the interests defended by the company ”.

Nick Gomes’ appointment for the position came from the PRS itself, as the note implies: “It is hardly credible that, exactly when a party like the PRS all calls for decency, a decision of this importance is made in this way. It is also not credible that there were no other figures and technical staff within the renovators who fully met constitutional requirements. ”

For these members of the PRS, the appointment “weakens the image” of the party, because Nick Gomes, as everyone seems to know in Bissau and the de facto Government  pretends to ignore, “is a well-known name from the world of crime, being referred to by the authorities as a drug deale – drugs, armed robbery of banks and fraud ”, explains the source who knows the Guinean judicial system well.

According to PÚBLICO, the return to Bissau de Seide Bá is not a unique case. One of the last commercial flights, if not the last, that TAP made to the Guinean capital (excluding those to repatriate Portuguese) before the country’s borders were closed, transported several figures from the criminal world in Guinea-Bissau.

“Terrorists from Pakistan, Colombia, drug dealers from Venezuela, arrived in Guinea on a TAP flight and were immediately identified,” adds the expert. “Braima Seide Bá, now sentenced to 16 years in prison, came on one of those flights, I think on TAP’s last commercial flight.”

The two major drug seizures in 2019, the aforementioned 1869 kg in Operation Navarra in September, and the 789 kg seized in March in Operation ‘Carapau’, may again be an exception in a country that has been seen as a narco-state since 2007 – transiting drugs, on its way between production in South America and consumption in Europe.

Both the national director of the Judicial Police (PJ), Filomena Mendes Lopes, and the Minister of Justice, Ruth Monteiro, responsible for the success of the operations against drug trafficking, were dismissed by the Government appointed by the self-proclaimed President, Umaro Sissoco Embaló, who dismissed the Executive constitutional, which has the support of the majority in Parliament.

Investigations halted

At the same time, two of the figures of the Public Ministry (MP) denounced last year by the Minister of Justice, in a press conference, as being halting investigations of drug trafficking in Guinea-Bissau, Mário Iala and Herculano Sá are today very well regarded by the de facto government.

Mário Iala was even appointed by the de facto prime minister, Nuno Nabiam, as director of the Judiciary Police, however, days later, the President, Umaro Sissoco Embaló, ended up refusing the name and would be the assistant prosecutor, Teresa Silva, to take office.

Even so, with Iala having “great affinity with the Prosecutor General’s Office” and Herculano Sá coordinating the MP’s criminal court, the two can control all cases related to drug trafficking.

Australian journalist Anthony Lowenstein published in March a book on drug trafficking called Pills, Powder, and Smoke in which he mentions Guinea-Bissau, a country that decades of military coups and military instability have made an easy target for the flourishing of drug trafficking.

“Lowenstein visits hotels where the only customers are drug dealers and remote fishing villages where trafficking is an open secret and a source of employment,” writes Salon who has read the book. “He speaks to security officials who frankly admit that they have almost no resources to fight trafficking and traces the route from there to Europe, sometimes carried by Islamist militants.”

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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