Both the US State Department and Francisco Mena of Alternativas have sounded the alarm over the Campo de Gibraltar being used as a major gateway for drugs to be introduced in to Spain and wider Europe. Well I say sounding the alarm but really they have only been restating what we knew anyway.
The State Department in a report on the global drugs menace has stated that organised criminal networks have turned Spain into a major gateway for illegal shipments of cocaine and cannabis.
The report went on to state that Spain is the principal stepping stone for Europe-bound shipments of hashish from Morocco and Algeria, adding that Gibraltarians are involved in this trade. “Hashish trafficking is controlled by Moroccan, British, and Portuguese smugglers and, to some extent, nationals of Gibraltar and the Netherlands.”
At the same time Francisco Mena of the anti-drugs organization Alternativas has warned of a marked increase in smuggling activity over the past few months. In an interview with El Faro newspaper he stated that tighter controls in other areas coupled to the impact of the economic crisis was prompting smugglers to focus once again on the Campo de Gibraltar and its surrounding areas.
The Guardia Civil reported an increase in seizures of hashish in the area covered by the Algeciras Command last year, including significant amounts confiscated in the ports of Tarifa and Algeciras. Mena believes that the figures for 2009 will also be high.
It is the view of Alternativas that many people were returning to smuggling as a means of riding out the economic downturn and rising unemployment. Mena explained: “The economic crisis that we are currently living through means that trafficking drugs is often seen as a way out. People are returning to this as a means of earning a living.”
Of course there have been century long traditions of smuggling both in Gibraltar and the wider Campo area. What started out as tobacco smuggling has now generated in to hashish and harder drugs. Fishing communities have also often sought to increase their income by using their boats and knowledge of the sea to bring in illicit goods.
You could have a healthy debate (pun intended) on whether tobacco or hashish was better for you and your health. Today drugs go hand in hand with organized crime. Yet it would have been a brave man or woman who attempted to stop a tobacco mule train as it headed from the coast along the back tracks to inland Spain.
In books I have read on Jimena details are given of smugglers going down to La Línea, staying overnight in ‘posada’ on the calle Gibraltar and returning next morning with the mules loaded up with tobacco. The residents of Jimena would then keep a watch for them and cause a diversion for the Guardia Civil if they were seen in the area.
I lived in an old house on one of the back lanes between the coast and Gaucín and there were four holes in the wall for shotguns to be poked through to ward off bandits. Antonio, who lives further up that lane, bewitched his teenage daughters one day by telling them his grandmother had been the local “Godmother” of the smugglers!
Which just goes to prove that old habits die hard.