Re-exporting narcotics to the world
Even as the country comes to grips with the sheer enormity of the ruin that has
beset this island in the recent decade, we wake up to a fresh horror: not only
has the corrupting of institutions enabled narcotics smuggling, but the lack of
controls has resulted, seemingly, in a booming narcotics re-export!
For long, Sri Lankans have taken pride in the success of Colombo as the key
transshipment port for the South Asian Sub-continent, especially to mighty India
just across the Palk Straits. Geography also locates our island ports as
transhipment points for much of the world’s trade between the vast markets to
the east and west of us. All this bodes well for us as long as we do not try to
play off one big power against another.
But transhipment of legal cargo is not all. The internal war taught us the
possibilities of large-scale arms smuggling into the country. The corrupt
governance that accompanied the most crude and brutal ending of the secessionist
insurgency also enabled a new, somewhat shadowy, industry: re-hiring of the
weaponry that had been bought lavishly for the purpose of counter-insurgency.
At the same time, the country also began to hear about the mounting detections
of illegal narcotics being smuggled in. Even as small boats are seen as the
traditional means of sea smuggling – literally from time immemorial – more
recently, modern containerised shipping has also emerged as a major means of
smuggling of illegal narcotics.
Fingers of suspicion continue to point to the politically powerful or
influential as major actors in enabling the massive and legitimate industry of
container shipping to be used conveniently for the smuggling of narcotic drugs.
Various big names in the political and business world are often touted as
‘king-pins’ or ‘godfathers’ of this large-scale narcotics trade.
Detections of imported narcotics in recent years have now indicated a more
frightening reality: the smuggling of narcotics is not, merely, to serve our own
market but also for transhipment to bigger and far more lucrative markets across
the globe. The sheer scale of the detections indicates that this volume cannot
be simply to meet the relatively small local market. Literally hundreds of
kilogrammes of heroin have been detected. While the exact modus operandi of the
smugglers and trans-shippers is yet to be identified, it is clear that our ports
and airports are being used to trans-ship heroin that is produced in Central
Then, just two weeks ago, came a shocker: a massive detection of cocaine, a
narcotic that is not produced in our region but far away in the Americas; and,
shipped by container. Indeed, the police apparently suspect that several more
containers carrying cocaine loads have slipped through the net.
The Customs Officers’ Union is, once more, protesting that powerful levers have
been used to enable the containers to slip through the net. In the past, a young
Customs investigator was assassinated for his persistence in probing the trail
of power that supports smuggling.
To their credit, the law authorities now formally acknowledge that today, Sri
Lanka is no more simply a victim of drug abuse. Last week, after the
billion-rupee cocaine bust, the authorities are ringing the alarm bells: we are
a re-exporter of narcotics to the world.
The authorities need to identify the markets to which the cocaine – and any
other drugs – is being re-exported. We also need to root out the rogues in our
corridors of power – in politics and in administration – who enable this massive
illegal trade. This has to be seen as part of the National Unity government’s
‘repair job’ alongside the financial crimes and arms deals that are being
Brexit: politics of nostalgia
Some 52 percent of those who voted in last week’s historic referendum in the
United Kingdom have opted for the UK to leave the European Union. The numerous
repercussions – especially to Sri Lanka - of the breakaway from the EU is
discussed in other sections of today’s newspaper.
The vast bulk of the ‘Leave’ vote came from the countryside and small towns. The
‘Leave’ vote is primarily that of the English and their closest ethnic kin, the
Welsh. The weight of the ‘Leave’ vote came from the less formally educated and
the older generations.
Election watchers in the United States have already noted the parallels in voter
demography in the on-going US presidential election process. Political analysts
in Sri Lanka may note the marked political differentiation between the urban and
the rural, with the rural vote favouring a harking back to the past.
When the framework of livelihood creates uncertainty over economic futures, the
resultant sense of insecurity naturally predicates a search for certainty, if
not in an unknown future, then in a, presumably, ‘known’ future based on a
re-construction of the past.
In the UK, it is an attempt to ‘get back’ to a future of a Britain that is not
tied to the EU – the imagined Britain of the pre-EU period. In the US, one
presidential candidate depends on an appeal to “make America great again”. The
‘again’ is the harking back to a past that can only be imagined since no one
actually lives it today. Based on our reservoir of historical records, the past
is far easier to imagine than is the future.
Simply because the future derives from a real-life present that is unstable, and
is, therefore, worrying, we cannot and should not attempt to re-create the
‘past’ on the basis that it is already ‘known’ and secure. Doing politics on the
basis of unbridled nostalgia does not set us on any ‘certain’ course.
As our various faiths teach us, it is the here-and-now that is the most ‘real’
and brings us intimately to divine guidance. And, in good faith, we can only
move into an uncertain future and not the imagined past.