by Aravindabharathi R
EML by Ramachandra Sundaralingam
At 6 P.M. on 26th September 2012, an enthusiastic crowd of students and faculty assembled at the IC&SR auditorium to listen to Mr. Ramachandra Sundaralingam, a former Interpol officer speak about the international drug mafia. The speaker has long been one of the planet’s leading anti-drug crusaders and, among other things, has served as Sri Lanka’s Additional Director General of Police and as Interpol’s leading drug expert in the organisation’s international headquarters in France.
The talk was organised by the EML team in association with MITr. With the aid of a cartoon showing the world being pulled on one side by sharp-dressed men wearing shades and on the other side by shabbily dressed young men, Mr. Sundaralingam said that when it came to the issue of drugs, there were two main kinds of people – those who wanted a drug-free world, and those who wanted a free-drug world.
He then spoke at length about the farming, processing, transport, and sale of drugs across continents. Of prime concern were cocaine and heroin, widely abused and also extremely dangerous. The majority of the world’s cocaine is sourced from Colombia, where its trade is carried out by a few powerful drug cartels. In addition to wielding enormous power and political influence, they also control large networks of organised crime all over the world. Afghanistan plays a similar role in the heroin trade, where the control is in the hands of religious terrorist groups instead of secular Mafiosos. “In a family with two male children in Afghanistan, one will become a heroin farmer and the other will join the militia,” he said.
He then spoke about how drug use patterns change with time – cocaine, which was very popular in the US in the 80s, is now the drug of choice in Europe, while it has been dethroned by heroin in the USA. He recalled a phone call made by George H.W. Bush, the erstwhile president of the United States of America to the then president of Colombia asking him to curb the illegal supply of cocaine from his country, to which the Colombian premier responded by asking President Bush to reduce the demand from his country for the same drug. With this anecdote, he illustrated the relationship between demand and supply in this business.
He described some of the methods commonly used to smuggle drugs across international borders. The most common of these is to swallow sealed packets of drugs such as cocaine and heroin, which can be vomited out at the destination. Of late, smugglers have even resorted to implanting these packets to evade detection by sophisticated airport security systems. This method of carrying drugs, he said, was a very risky proposition since the containers are likely to burst in transit and enter the smuggler’s system, causing a fatal overdose. “These mafias are ruthless,” he said, “They have been known to use even animals like dogs implanted with drug packets to smuggle them.”
The top rung is occupied by the drug lords – the businessmen who control the trade. Mr. Sundaralingam mentioned the case of a Colombian mobster who, after having his photograph leaked to every police station in his country, decided to have his face altered by plastic surgery. With his deep pockets, he was able to get the best plastic surgeon in the country to work on him, but died on the operating table due to surgical complications. Suspecting foul play and ignoring the surgeon’s protestations of innocence, his underlings made an example of him by drowning him in a vat of boiling oil. Just two weeks later, his cartel was under new management, and was working as efficiently as it was earlier.
Describing the drug scene in India, he said that although the number of drug users in the country is far more than what the government’s statistics indicate, it is not as major a problem in the country as it is in its neighbours. “You can choose your friends but not your neighbours!” he quipped. The main problems that India faces with drugs, he says, are due to its neighbours such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, and China, which are major players in the international drug trade. Since Mumbai is one of the largest ports in the region, it is used as a shipping base by many cartels operating in South Asia.
Lastly, discussing methods of curbing drug abuse, he said that most users of drugs get into the habit due to psychological troubles or other dissatisfaction with their lives. Education and rehabilitation are keys to winning the war on drugs, he said. Without the demand, the supply networks which run worldwide will crumble, bringing us one step closer to a drug-free world.