Despite record cocaine seizures, drug cartels roil Europe

Jan 10, 2023, 10:44 AM | Updated: 10:50 am
Chief police inspector of the Brussels Morolles neighbourhood, Kris Verborgh shows a package of cra...

Chief police inspector of the Brussels Morolles neighbourhood, Kris Verborgh shows a package of crack cocaine in Brussels, Monday, Jan. 9, 2023. The white plastic-wrapped kernel found on a small-time dealer recently was barely the size of a fingernail and weighed all of 0.2 grams. The "flash" that crack provides though is increasingly felt through the Brussels Marolles neighborhood and any place in Europe where the surge in cocaine supply is hitting hard. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

(AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

ANTWERP, Belgium (AP) — Each tiny plastic package was barely the size of a fingernail and weighed all of 0.2 grams. Still, the bags of white powder police seized in a Brussels cellar were yet another indication that a surge in cocaine and crack supply is hitting Europe hard.

And, with it, comes unprecedented drug violence in Belgium and the Netherlands, whose ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam have proven the main gateway for Latin American cocaine cartels into the continent.

In Belgium, the justice minister is forced to live in a safehouse, out of reach of drug gangs. In the Netherlands, killings hit ever more prominent people and there are suspicions that the reason the heir to the Dutch throne had to quit her student life and return home was also linked to threats from drug lords.

“We almost have to see it as a war,” said Aukje de Vries, the Dutch State Secretary for customs.

Officials in Belgium’s northern port of Antwerp on Tuesday announced yet another annual record in cocaine seizures last year: 110 tons, 23% up compared to 2021 and more than twice the amount confiscated five years ago.

“It astounded us,” said Belgian Finance Minister Vincent Van Peteghem. “It also means the drugs that are entering Europe (undetected) through our ports are also rising. And that, of course, has a huge impact,” he told The Associated Press.

Because with cocaine comes not only addiction, decay and death, but also violence and gang warfare.

In the past three years Antwerp has suffered dozens of grenade attacks, fires and small bombs often linked to gangs trying to carve up the thriving cocaine trade.

On Monday evening, the city better known for painter Peter-Paul Rubens and a famed fashion school saw the fatal shooting of a child, likely an unwitting victim of the drug war.

“A girl of barely 11 that obviously has nothing to do with crime gangs is now the victim of narco terror that is turning ever more ruthless,” said Antwerp Prosecutor Franky De Keyzer.

The situation in Belgium has become so bad that even Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne, is living in hiding after evidence emerged drugs gangs might be seeking to kidnap him, or worse.

In the Netherlands too, home to the global port of Rotterdam, murder and intimidation have become increasingly common as drug lords go to extreme lengths to protect their cut of the multibillion euro (dollar) market. And 50 tons of cocaine were seized there last year which, combined with Antwerp, made for another record year.

Among high-profile murder victims in the Netherlands in recent years were a lawyer representing a witness in a drug gangsters’ trial and crime reporter Peter R. de Vries, who was a confidant to the same witness.

Unspecified threats to the heir to the Dutch throne, Princess Amalia, forced her last year to abandon student life in Amsterdam and return home. Security reportedly also has been beefed up around Prime Minister Mark Rutte. In both cases, it’s suspected that drugs-related crime is a factor.

And in places like Brussels, where the violence might be less spectacular, cocaine and crack are starting to have a chilling effect in areas like the Marolles, a neighborhood so folksy quaint it figured in Tintin’s cartoon adventures.

The chief police inspector for the neighborhood, Kris Verborgh, said South American cocaine “seems to be — or seems to have become — the new normal.”

Verborgh says the cost of the base product in Colombia amounts to some 500 euros ($536) a kilogram. A kilogram of the finished product can turn into some 70,000 euros on Belgium’s streets.

“It is a massive amount of money that you can earn relatively easily,” he said.

Because of that, seizures in the dozens of tons in Antwerp and Rotterdam may still constitute a losing battle in a multibillion global trade from the Latin American nations of Colombia, Peru and Bolivia to the major cities of Europe.

Brussels’ Marolles is hardly ground zero of that trade and many of the 11,000 people living in its warren of narrow streets are among the poorest in the city of 1.2 million.

Yet, over the past months they have been sought out for cocaine and crack sales. Verborgh said each tiny dose of 0.2 gram sells for 20 euros, within reach of even a beggar seeking instant gratification for whom a traditional 0.8 gram dose costing 50 euros is too expensive.

“They’re really targeting homeless people,” said Verborgh. In a cocaine seller’s world, it makes economic sense.

Fixers sometimes sell crack ready-made to be smoked on the curbside of once tranquil streets, even in a subway station with families walking by. Gangs start intimidating locals not to squeal, hurl rocks at passing police vans and try to turn streets into no-go zones for police — who Verborgh stresses, are not giving in.

Since mid-October, there have been 115 arrests in the neighborhood. The power of the gangs is such however, that within half an hour a new seller may be on the same corner.

And increasingly, the young are drawn in to the expanding trade. “Several years ago, we never saw somebody who was 12 or 14 years. Now we see them being more or less part of the gangs,” doing things like stakeouts, Verborgh said.

Just last week, police in the Marolles stumbled upon a cache in a seemingly deserted cellar where they found cocaine and other drugs, precision scales, a drone, pepper spray and two swords. One of the two teenagers arrested there was 14.

“Well, it’s a problem because normally a youngster of 12 or 14 years old should be at school,” Verborgh said.

___

Mike Corder contributed from The Hague.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


              A police officer walks in front of forensic markers after a shooting in Merksem district of Antwerp, Belgium, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023. Antwerp itself has been hit by two dozen grenade attacks, fires and small bombs that have often been linked to gangs trying to carve up the thriving cocaine trade that uses the north Belgian harbor as a port of call. Compounding the increasing threat in a city better known for painter Peter-Paul Rubens and its famed fashion school was Monday evening's fatal shooting of an 11 year-old-girl, likely an unwitting victim of the drug war. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
            
              Trucks carrying containers queue at the Maasvlakte container terminal in the port of Rotterdam, Netherlands, Monday, Jan. 9, 2023. Cocaine is spreading at an alarming rate through Europe, much of it through the world ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam. And a Tuesday, Jan. 10. 2023, announcement of massive seizures may well hide a bigger truth, that South American cartels are throwing ever more cocaine at the European market. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
            
              A customs officer, posing for the media, watches as a truck carrying a container enters an X-ray cargo scanning facility at the Maasvlakte container terminal location in the port of Rotterdam, Netherlands, Monday, Jan. 9, 2023. Cocaine is spreading at an alarming rate through Europe, much of it through the world ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam. And a Tuesday, Jan. 10. 2023, announcement of massive seizures may well hide a bigger truth, that South American cartels are throwing ever more cocaine at the European market. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
            
              A truck carrying a shipping container enters an X-ray cargo scanning facility of the Dutch Customs at the Maasvlakte container terminal location in the port of Rotterdam, Netherlands, Monday, Jan. 9, 2023. Cocaine is spreading at an alarming rate through Europe, much of it through the world ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam. And a Tuesday, Jan. 10. 2023, announcement of massive seizures may well hide a bigger truth, that South American cartels are throwing ever more cocaine at the European market. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
            
              A Dutch customs officer poses for the media as containers are being unloaded at the Maasvlakte container terminal location in the port of Rotterdam, Netherlands, Monday, Jan. 9, 2023. Cocaine is spreading at an alarming rate through Europe, much of it through the world ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam. And a Tuesday, Jan. 10. 2023, announcement of massive seizures may well hide a bigger truth, that South American cartels are throwing ever more cocaine at the European market. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
            
              Chief police inspector of the Brussels Morolles neighbourhood, Kris Verborgh shows a package of crack cocaine in Brussels, Monday, Jan. 9, 2023. The white plastic-wrapped kernel found on a small-time dealer recently was barely the size of a fingernail and weighed all of 0.2 grams. The "flash" that crack provides though is increasingly felt through the Brussels Marolles neighborhood and any place in Europe where the surge in cocaine supply is hitting hard. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
            FILE - A container is loaded onto a ship in the Port of Antwerp, Belgium, on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022. Cocaine is spreading at an alarming rate through the continent, much of it through the world ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam in the Netherlands. And Tuesday's announcement of record seizures is also hiding a bigger truth, that South American cartels are throwing ever more cocaine at the European market. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, File) A customs officer simulates for the media a drug search on the bottom of a ship as he dives in a tank at the Port of Antwerp, Belgium, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023. Cocaine is spreading at an alarming rate through the continent, much of it through the world ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam in the Netherlands. And Tuesday's announcement of record seizures is also hiding a bigger truth, that South American cartels are throwing ever more cocaine at the European market. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo) A customs officer directs his dog as he performs a simulated drug search of cases of bananas for the media at the Port of Antwerp, Belgium, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023. Cocaine is spreading at an alarming rate through the continent, much of it through the world ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam in the Netherlands. And Tuesday's announcement of record seizures is also hiding a bigger truth, that South American cartels are throwing ever more cocaine at the European market. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo) A forklift driver unloads cases of bananas during a demonstration for the media at the Port of Antwerp, Belgium, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023. Cocaine is spreading at an alarming rate through the continent, much of it through the world ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam in the Netherlands. And Tuesday's announcement of record seizures is also hiding a bigger truth, that South American cartels are throwing ever more cocaine at the European market. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

AP

Associated Press

NFL, DAZN sign agreement for Game Pass International package

NEW YORK (AP) — The NFL has signed a 10-year agreement with DAZN Group to deliver the Game Pass International service to fans outside the United States beginning with the 2023 season, it was announced Tuesday. Game Pass International will be offered in more than 200 countries and regions, including Canada and Mexico. It will […]
8 hours ago
FILE - The logo of German car manufacturer BMW is fixed at the headquarters in Munich, Germany, May...
Associated Press

German court rejects climate lawsuit against automaker BMW

BERLIN (AP) — A German court on Tuesday rejected a lawsuit by environmental campaigners seeking to force automaker BMW to stop selling vehicles with combustion engine by 2030. The group Environmental Action Germany, also known by its German acronym DUH, argued that manufacturers such as BMW pose a threat to people’s right to property, health […]
8 hours ago
A man takes photos as a black plume rises over East Palestine, Ohio, as a result of a controlled de...
Associated Press

Residents kept out as air checked near derailed Ohio train

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (AP) — It’s unclear when evacuated residents might be able to return home to the area where officials released and burned toxic chemicals from the wreckage of a derailed train, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said Tuesday. Residents near the site in East Palestine, close to the Pennsylvania line, were ordered beforehand to […]
8 hours ago
This image provided by Catalina María Gomez Caycedo shows Aleena Rupani, from left, Catalina Marí...
Associated Press

Gallup: Just 2 in 10 U.S. employees have work `best friend’

NEW YORK (AP) — Crystal Powers began a new job remotely in February 2022 as a medical records supervisor. She has yet to meet two of the five people who report to her in person and has found it challenging to bond with her fellow managers online. “I was used to that face-to-face of going […]
8 hours ago
FILE - Protesters hold signs as they march during a protest over the death of George Floyd in Chica...
Associated Press

How Candid hopes diversity data will help aid racial equity

Candid, the major philanthropy research group, is leading a coalition of funders and grantees that want to standardize the collection of demographic information to help target donations to minority-led groups. Harnessing such data could help advance racial equity, said Candid’s CEO, Ann Mei Chang, who is launching a nonprofit initiative to amass more such information. […]
8 hours ago
Associated Press

Bertelsmann subsidiary to end, sell dozens of magazines

BERLIN (AP) — German media group RTL Deutschland said Tuesday it will stop publishing 23 print magazines and seek to sell almost two dozen others, affecting about 700 jobs. The company is part of Bertelsmann, the German conglomerate that also owns Penguin Random House. RTL Deutschland said it wants to focus on core brands that […]
8 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Company looking for oldest air conditioner and wants to reward homeowner with new one

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.
...
Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet edges out cable for everyday use

In a world where technology drives so much of our daily lives, a lack of high-speed internet can be a major issue.
(Desert Institute for Spine Care photo)...
DESERT INSTITUTE FOR SPINE CARE

Why DISC is world renowned for back and neck pain treatments

Fifty percent of Americans and 90% of people at least 50 years old have some level of degenerative disc disease.
Despite record cocaine seizures, drug cartels roil Europe