As another Christmas passes by, drug traffickers have been embracing the season to be jolly with open arms once again. Over the years, criminal groups have been up to snow good with all Christmas has to offer, using everything from suspicious trees to Santa hats as they smuggle and sell drugs over the festive period.
InSight Crime looks at some of the most creative ways drug traffickers have exploited Christmas cheer to conceal and commercialize their illicit products, all while striving to avoid a place on official naughty lists.
Oh, Christmas Tree?
It is unknown whether drug traffickers rock around their Christmas trees when seasonal spirits are high. However, criminal actors have often used their illicit wares to deck the halls.
In 2014, police reportedly found over 20 marijuana plants at a property in San Bernardo, Chile, one of which was 1.5 meters tall and surrounded by presents to resemble a “disguised” (albeit untrimmed) Christmas tree.
Similarly, last Christmas, it was discovered a man in the Brazilian state of Espírito Santo had been maintaining a large marijuana tree decked with colorful baubles. But on finding the illicit plant, authorities took it away. Clarin revealed the man had cultivated his so-called Christmas tree for at least six months.
As it so happens, criminal actors have also used Christmas trees to smuggle drugs ahead of the big day. In December 2018, just as it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas, police in Bucaramanga, Colombia seized five kilograms of marijuana that had arrived at the city’s bus station from Cali in amongst boxed festive trees, according to El Tiempo.
The Season To Give
Albeit with no sleigh in view, drug traffickers have often used Christmas gifts to smuggle marijuana and cocaine.
Far from using Santa’s preferred mode of transport, criminals have attempted to take advantage of aerial postal services to make illegal seasonal deliveries.
In December 2018, authorities seized three kilograms of creepy marijuana destined for Panama at El Dorado de Bogotá Airport, Colombia. According to a police news release, the drugs were found hidden in a gift-wrapped tricycle, complete with a festive red bow.
Meanwhile, year after year, authorities in Ecuador have taken away the possibility of a white Christmas for cocaine consumers awaiting deliveries in Europe and the US. In January 2019, El Mercurio reported anti-narcotics police in the city of Cuenca had seized just under 75 grams of cocaine hidden in amongst festive crafts and chocolates, destined for the US. This followed two other near-identical seizures at shipping agencies in Cuenca in which over 250 and 170 grams of cocaine were respectively seized.
Four years earlier, Ecuadorean authorities at Guayaquil Airport refused to let it snow in Madrid, as they confiscated a festive parcel destined for the Spanish capital on finding chocolate contaminated with cocaine inside.
When Santa Got Stuck With Authorities
Some criminal actors have been far naughtier than nice in festive seasons past, smuggling drugs using Santa paraphernalia, or dressed as the man himself.
Last month at Culiacán Airport, Mexican authorities seized 1,330 fentanyl pills and over 300 grams of presumed methamphetamine after a ho-ho hollow attempt was made to conceal the substances within a figure of Santa and a DVD player.
Elsewhere, in December 2018, a family network that had been selling drugs out of Santa hats and stockings faced a blue Christmas as Buenos Aires police wrapped up the group’s illicit operations in the town of Rafael Calzada, Argentina. Authorities told media outlets they were able to seize 800 packets of cocaine, just under 1,000 doses of cocaine base paste and another 280 of marijuana in the area, as a result of 17 raids.
Meanwhile, back in December 2016, police in Jacksonville, Florida detained a man dressed as Santa for possession of drugs. According to authorities, Santa's imposter was initially spotted collecting items from a U-Haul rental truck. But as he dashed through the street away from police, the suspect tripped over his pants and was caught. Inside the suspicious vehicle, authorities later found no presents, but marijuana, ecstasy and scales.
The Christmas Edition
Traffickers have also been taking advantage of the festive period by using Christmas symbols to spruce up drug packaging.
Last month, three Ecuadoreans were detained off the coast of Puntarenas, Costa Rica, as they were attempting to transport over 420 kilograms of cocaine packaged in festive boxes adorned with images of “Christmas Bells,” according to EFE.
Others have historically concealed drugs headed overseas within Christmas cards.
In December 2016, Peruvian authorities seized over 500 grams of cocaine packaged amongst Christmas cards and candy reportedly destined for Hong Kong.
However, long before this, drug traffickers had been keen to keep buyers on their Christmas card lists. In 2009, La Estrella de Panamá reported that authorities in the town of Calidonia and the District of San Miguelito had dismantled a gang dedicated to making international cocaine deliveries through the use of festive cards.
Authorities Have The Final Sleigh
Authorities have often led the charge with festively titled anti-narcotics operations carried out during the most wonderful time of the year.
At the end of November authorities in Chile launched “Operation Santa Claus,” a string of raids that targeted microtraffickers selling drugs in the city of La Serena. Fittingly, police found cocaine base paste stashed inside a Santa hat during one of the raids.
Over the years, police in Argentina have been particularly creative in titling seasonal interventions designed to deprive drug traffickers of yet another silent night of illicit activities.
In December 2018, police in Buenos Aires carried out “Operation Christmas Boots” to target a family network selling drugs in Rafael Calzada. Four years earlier, Argentinian authorities launched “Operation White Christmas”, in which three were initially arrested on Christmas Eve, including one man found with over 280 panels of cocaine in a taxi.
Meanwhile, Peruvian authorities have been known to dress up as Santa himself to stop drug traffickers from enjoying a Merry Christmas of smuggling and selling. Just this month, Peruvian police in Lima detained a man who had allegedly been selling marijuana and cocaine base paste when a pair of officers burst through the suspect's door dressed as Santa and an elf.