Drug traffickers are nothing if not innovative. And faced with increasingly sophisticated techniques for detecting drugs, they have been forced to be increasingly ingenious to successfully transport their merchandise.
Hiding drugs inside the human body or in suitcases simply doesn't cut it anymore.
Here, InSight Crime has compiled five of the more creative ways criminal groups in Latin America have recently tried to evade authorities.
1. Face Masks
In an attempt to take advantage of the global health crisis caused by the spread of the coronavirus, drug traffickers in Peru took advantage of the massive demand for face masks to try to disguise their merchandise.
In mid-March, amidst global tension surrounding the ongoing pandemic, the Police Anti-Drugs Directorate (Dirección Antidrogas de la Policía - Dirandro) confirmed in a statement to the Associated Press that they found just over a kilogram of cocaine hidden in a box of surgical facemasks headed for Hong Kong.
This was not an isolated case, coming shortly after authorities seized around 2.4 kilograms of cocaine in warehouses in the port city of Callao, packed alongside boxes of disposable face masks bound for China, according to news portal Peru21.
While tropical fruits and plants headed overseas have long been preferred hiding spots for drugs, traffickers have found a way to hide drugs inside avocados which look intact from the outside.
On March 6, in the city of Santa Marta, in the northwest of Colombia, police seized 468 kilos of cocaine from an avocado shipment headed to Belgium, El Tiempo reported.
However, while it is common for authorities to find drug-contaminated fruit containers or shipments, this time the cocaine was not just in the containers with the fruits, but rather inside of the fruits themselves. The drugs were found hidden in plastic packets inside of the pits of the avocados.
The almost surgical precision with which the drugs were placed into the avocado, without damaging the fruit, reflects the sophistication of this operation.
Control of the avocado trade is being bitterly fought over by various cartels in Mexico, given booming demand for the fruit around the world.
3. Children’s Toys
Various countries in South America have experienced a surge in synthetic drug consumption, most of which come from Europe.
In June 2019, Argentine authorities detected the use of a child’s toy for moving drugs. Authorities discovered more than a kilo of methamphetamine hidden inside a wooden rocking horse. According to authorities, European criminals mixed the drug with sugar before putting it in the horse and shipping it off to Buenos Aires.
A similar case occurred in Uruguay in July, as reported by the newspaper El País, when customs officials seized a package sent from Portugal via certified mail, that contained 478 grams of cocaine hidden in a plastic dinosaur and a toy boat.
While the use of human drug mules in transnational drug shipments is not new, more cases are being reported of people using different parts of their bodies to hide the drugs. One of the methods that has drawn attention for its creativity, is the use of wigs or hair pieces.
In July 2019, police in Barcelona arrested a Colombian man who arrived in Spain with half a kilo of cocaine glued to his head, covered by a rather noticeable brown toupee.
Officials noted that the traveler coming from Bogotá seemed to be extremely nervous, but what unsurprisingly caught their attention was the height of his hairpiece.
On another occasion, Spanish authorities in Madrid's airport detained two Portuguese women with more than two kilos of cocaine sewn into their hair and covered by large wigs.
Whether as lookouts or mules, animals are one of drug traffickers’ most reliable strategies. In different situations, both wild animals and domesticated animals have been used in a range of criminal enterprises.
One case that caught people’s attention took place in the Vila Irma Dulce community in Piauí, Brazil, where police “captured” a green parakeet accused of being a lookout for a band dedicated to micro-trafficking. According to authorities, the parrot screamed “Mama, the police” every time uniformed officials got close to where drugs were being sold.
In Costa Rica, police officers detained two cats that were used to bring drugs into the prison in February 2019. According to authorities, the two cats were carrying more than 440 grams of marijuana, as well as a charger and a cell phone.