boats, planes, or for a while even handcuffs, Guinea-Bissau can do
little against the flow of cocaine that moves in from South America and
out to Europe
People gather around a speedboat of a type believed to be used by drug traffickers, as it unloads cargo at a quay in Bissau/AP
BISSAU, Guinea-Bissau -- It's hard to say which is more sorely lacking in Guinea-Bissau, the Portuguese-speaking nation on Africa's Atlantic coast: Information -- reliable information -- or the roof on the country's presidential mansion. A hilltop six-column colonial villa overlooking the cobblestone capital, O Palácio Presidencial was bombed hollow in the 1999 civil war that drubbed government buildings, gutted the economy by 27 percent, littered behind enough landmines for every tenth citizen to step on one, and reduced Bissau's democracy to a hostage of the bloated, 4,500-soldier army unafraid of staging afternoon coups. There is a saying: Roof is the first casualty of war. Truth was Bissau's second.
This marshland, according to a growing body of research, serves as crossroads of Africa's drug trade, an unsurprising charge against a government that lacks the capacity or care to lay down shingles, let alone the law. The trade, a four-continent-crossing caravan of cocaine and weaponry, is frightening for the hush with which unregistered planes and boats swap contraband in such impenetrable landscapes as Bissau's bayou before disappearing into the Sahara. It is even more distressing for the amount of cocaine analysts say increasingly sticks around as locally-sold crack.