Things That Matter

Australian Federal Police Busted A Colombian Gang’s Drug Home In An Very Wealthy Part Of Sydney

This is a story of a surprising find in a tranquil Australian suburb. What unfolds is a tale of hidden illegal activity and a surprise discovery. This all happened back in 2017, but legal proceedings are putting the spotlight on this case again. Cases like this bring to mind how many Latin American communities are stigmatized due to the incidence of drug-related crimes in the region, and how global cartels expand internationally. These processes of stigmatization not only affect everyday interactions but also wider policymaking, as the recent discussions around the proposed border wall in the US-Mexico border have highlighted. 

First things first: Australia is hard to reach for drug cartels.

Credit: image. Digital image. Business Insider

Oceania is the last bastion for international drug cartels. Australia, in particular, is heavily guarded but also has miles and miles of coast that is practically impossible to fully surveil. Cartels, however, have found ways to enter this market. In recent years, journalistic accounts of the role that international criminal networks have in the distribution of drugs in Australia has sparked public concern and debate. According to recent research published in The Age, “Australians consumed illegal drugs worth $9.3 billion in 2018”.  The presence of organizations such as the Sinaloa Cartel in Australian cities and its role in the ice epidemic has sparked concerns among journalists and policymakers. The Australian media is up in arms every time the cartels are identified in the country. As reported by Daily Telegraph on January 28, 2019: “The Mexican Sinaloa drug cartel, described as the most ruthless and deadly in the world, has joined forces with the increasingly dangerous Nigerian crime network in Sydney to carry out large-scale drug importation.” This story, for example, plays with fears of foreigners in a society that sometimes tends to be insular and afraid of immigration. Are reports like this generating stereotypes?

This is where this story begins:

Sylvania is like any upscale suburb in the ultra-expensive beachside city of Sydney, Australia.

Credit: Screenshot taken from RealEstate.com.au

Houses in Sylvania often reach the $1 million AUD mark. It is a pretty relaxed place with a mostly white population, but with pockets of Asian and Greek migrants. It is the synonym of a relaxed Aussie beach suburb. Nothing much happens and everything is usually closed by 7 p.m. 

There is some old money around, and plenty of new money.

Credit: Screenshot taken from RealEstate.com.au

When we said homes can easily reach a million, we were talking about the lower end of the spectrum. A four-bedroom apartment goes for more than two million Australian dollars. But look at those views!

From the outside, a suburban home in Sylvania was just another ordinary, sleepy household.

Credit: Image by Australian Federal Police

Nothing to suspect. Just a comfy couch and a bookshelf lined with Lonely Planet travel guidebooks. 

The cops suspected something was going on so they searched the property.

Credit: Image by Australian Federal Police

The Australian Federal Police was investigating a Sydney-based Colombian gang that was involved in the distribution of border-controlled drugs. The police were also following the trails of a money-laundering operation believed to be operated by Colombians. This all happened in 2017, but the details of the case are just being released as part of a court proceeding. As Australian Government News reported on July 12, 2019: “On 10 July 2019, the Supreme Court of NSW made orders which restrained a residential property in Sylvania, NSW, under section 19 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Cth) based on the allegation the property was used in, or in connection with, various drug offences under the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth).”

This is what they found behind the now-famous bookshelf: and now the police is trying to seize the property.

Credit: Image by Australian Federal Police

The authorities believed that the house was actually a custom made to fit in the illegal drug operation. For this reason, the authorities are looking to confiscate the house. In addition, the authorities charged a 45-year-old man (the police hasn’t disclosed his name for legal reasons) with multiple drug-related offenses: supplying cocaine, being in the possession of cannabis and, as reported by The Sun UK, ” dealing in proceeds of crime with a value that reached around $100,000.” This man pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years and six months in federal prison. 

Drugs, high tech transmitters, they really had everything they needed to run a drug business.

Credit: Image by Australian Federal Police

According to The Sun UK, police found that the property “was full of cash, replica weapons, tasers, and wireless transmitters, police confirmed”. This was a big hit on organized crime in Australia, a country that is hard to penetrate for drug cartels due to its tight borders and geographical isolation. There are also very few cases of police corruption. Officer Penelope Kelton, Coordinator of Criminal Assets Litigation, said (as per The Sun UK): “The ability to confiscate items used in the commission of crimes sends a clear message to the criminal underworld – if you commit the crime, we are prepared to target your assets. Drug-related crime puts a great strain on the community through increased health care costs, associated property crime and other forms of violence. It is only reasonable that police can fight back on behalf of the community by targeting those who seek to profit from inflicting this misery.”

Drug trafficking is a significant issue in Australia for multiple reasons.

Credit: mexico_drugs. Digital image. Australian Institute of International Affairs.

The illegal distribution and consumption of narcotics through global networks of criminal complicity is a significant social problem worldwide and public health concern in most Western countries, including Australia. Alongside the distribution of drugs, negative stereotypes about Global South populations run rampant. In particular, Latin American citizens from countries like Colombia and Mexico are stigmatized due to the negative image their home countries have in relation to the drug wars. 

Representation matters: not all Latinos are drug dealers!

Credit: Narcos / Netflix

Alongside extremism and terrorism, since the 1990s international criminal networks have been framed as one of the main challenges to Western democracies, a place formerly held by the Soviet Union and left-leaning countries. This understanding of recent world history has the potential to generate stereotypes that could influence national and international discussions regarding border security, as seen in the recent debate in the United States concerning the construction of a Southern border wall.

How stories like these are told in the media influences the way in which Latinos living in English-speaking and Global North countries are perceived. Australian newspapers emphasized the fact that those arrested were Colombian, which further adds to the bad rep that the country has in the Southern Hemisphere. To this, we have to add that most references that Australians and non-Latino Americans have of the region are through TV shows and movies. As a recent editorial by Hector Tobar published in The New York Times pointed out: “By the next network upfronts, or summer movie blockbuster season, Latino drug operatives may outpace their chief rivals — jihadist terrorists and Russians mobsters — and become the country’s leading screen bad guys”. 

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#BlackLivesMatter Is Trending In Colombia After Five Black Teens Were Killed While Playing On Their Street

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#BlackLivesMatter Is Trending In Colombia After Five Black Teens Were Killed While Playing On Their Street

Luis Robayo / Getty Images

Despite countrywide stay-at-home orders that are among the world’s most strict, and even cartel-enforced lockdowns, crime is on the rise across Colombia. The increase has been driven by massacre-style attacks on the country’s most vulnerable communities: Afro-Colombians and Indigenous groups.

The recent torture and murder of five black teens who had stepped outside to fly kites, has reignited the conversation on race and how the government can step up to make sure minority groups across the country can be better protected.

A group of Afro-Latino teens were found tortured and murdered in Cali, Colombia.

Five Black teenagers left their homes in a neighborhood in Cali, Colombia, to fly their kites and play on a recent August morning. The young friends, aged between 14 and 18, didn’t show up at home for lunch. By midday, their mothers were looking for them.

“The boys were found tortured, burned, with machete and bullet wounds,” said Erlendy Cuero, a social leader from Cali, Colombia’s third-largest city. “Right now, the people who live here are sad but also very scared.”

Community members recently led a protest denouncing racism and violence inflicted by the Colombian state, and demanding justice for the murdered teens and other Afro-Colombian people who’ve been killed.

The mother of one of the Cali victims said: “Because we’re vulnerable and black, lots of people think they can walk all over us and forget about what happened to our children. Don’t let it be forgotten.”

The brutal killings are a reminder to Colombians that ethnic minorities are the most affected by violence.

Credit: Luis Robayo / Getty Images

Colombia is a country that has grown accustom to violence, but the massacre of these Black teens has shocked the country as a whole. And it’s brought to light a very real issue of racism in the country and shown exactly which communities suffer the most: ethnic minorities.

The recent masacre has also illuminated cracks in the still fragile peace deal between the government and former-FARC rebels. Just days after the boys were found murdered, a grenade was thrown at the police station in Llano Verde. The attack injured 15 people and left one man dead.

“We can’t assure they’re related, but neither can we rule out that hypothesis,” said Jorge Iván Ospina, Cali’s mayor.

The communities that suffer the most from widespread violence, are the Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities. They have little protection from the central government in Bogota. However, it appears that finally, Colombians are starting to realize that peace will never be possible without listening to those communities who are most affected by violence.

Massacres are on the rise across the country, despite countrywide stay-at-home orders.

Colombia has been under one of the world’s longest running lockdown orders thanks to the Coronavirus. However, the number of massacres carried out this year is record breaking. In 2020, there have been at least 43 massacres leaving at least 181 dead.

The majority of them are taking place in the country’s south-west, home to larger populations of Afro-Colombians and Indigenous communities. Although responsibility for the massacres remains unclear, the government is pointing fingers at drug cartels. Families of victims though disagree, saying that their loved ones had no involvement with the drug trade.

A frequent complaint in these areas is that there is no government presence, allowing elements of armed groups that did not accept the peace agreements made in 2016 by the previous government of Juan Manuel Santos to fight for control of territory. 

The massacres are at least bringing forth a conversation on race and vulnerable communities in the country.

From police brutality to government indifference, Black and Indigenous Colombians live very different lives from the rest of the country. They’re more often targeted for abuse by police, they’re more likely to fall victim to massacres, and the government affords them little in the way of official protections from discrimination.

The recent murder of the teens from Cali, is finally bringing the #BlackLivesMatter conversation to a country that has long denied the existence of racism within its borders.

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Colombia Has Been Under The World’s Longest Lockdown But Has It Helped Contain The Virus?

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Colombia Has Been Under The World’s Longest Lockdown But Has It Helped Contain The Virus?

Luisa Gonzalez / Getty Images

Colombians have been under strict lockdown orders for more than 150 days – since March 6 to be exact. What many thought would last a couple of weeks or months at most has now become one of the world’s longest running Coronavirus lockdown orders.

The strict quarantine has started to take its toll on Colombians’ mental well-being as reports of depression and loneliness skyrocket. And, according to many health experts, the intended effects of the lockdown – keeping Coronavirus at bay – have been questionable as Colombia has experienced one of the worst outbreaks of the virus in Latin America.

Colombia has been under one of the world’s longest running lockdown orders to combat the pandemic.

Colombia is on course to have one of the world’s longest Coronavirus lockdown orders after President Iván Duque decreed an eighth extension of Obligatory Preventive Isolation to August 30.

“Obligatory preventative isolation, as the general concept, will continue until August 30,” Duque said in his nightly broadcast.

The issue of Decree 749 came hours after he addressed the nation highlighting the country’s positive epidemiological data of COVID-19 in comparison with countries in the hemisphere and around the world.

Having initiated strict quarantine on March 25, Colombians braced themselves for the possibility a two-month lockdown when on April 13 an additional two weeks were decreed, then on April 27, another extension to May 11. A week before that deadline, President Duque extended yet again, to May 25, and date many citizens considered as a final decision before easing the country back into economic productivity for all. But that easing back to a new normal never came as Coronavirus cases began to spiral out of control across the country.

Bogotá has been hit particularly hard and will likely extend the lockdown even further.

Credit: Luisa Gonzalez / Getty Images

Bogota, the Colombian capital, will hold a strict two-week quarantine in seven neighborhoods beginning Sunday, as it tries once again to curb coronavirus infections amid still-high intensive care unit occupation rates.

Occupation in the city’s ICUs has fallen gently from more than 90% to around 87%, the mayor said. Bogota has continued to add ventilators to its hospital system throughout the pandemic.

“The (health) system never collapsed, even though it had high occupation, thanks to the care we took, thanks to face masks, thanks to distancing, thanks to hand-washing and thanks to the focused quarantines,” Lopez said. “The efforts of the last six weeks were not in vain.”

The neighborhoods of Usaquen, Chapinero, Santa Fe, Candelaria, Puente Aranda and Antonio Narino, which are highly vulnerable to more infections and rapid spread, will be under the renewed lockdown from Sunday to Aug. 30 – which is also when the national lockdown order is finally expected to end.

However, the country was one of the first in the region to initiate a plan to combat the virus’ spread, so what happened?

Colombia instituted a strict country-wide lockdown order starting on March 6, the day that the country saw it’s first confirmed case of Coronavirus. The lockdown order was so strict that Colombia effectively sealed itself off from the rest of the world – closing its airports and land borders to everyone, including Colombian citizens who were hoping to return home.

In cities, only one person from each household was allowed to leave the home to do essential shopping, visit pharmacies, seek medical care, or go to an ATM or bank.

At first, the policy seemed to be working. Countries from Brazil to Mexico saw case numbers spike as Colombia’s stayed relatively flat. But that all started to change in June. Now, Colombia has seen almost 500,000 confirmed cases and 15,372 people have died.

Things have become so volatile that local cartels have implemented their own lockdown orders – and killed those who don’t obey.

Credit: Luis Robayo / Getty Images

Across Colombia, heavily armed cartels have introduced their own Coronavirus lockdown measures and “justice” system for those who break quarantine orders. To date, a least nine people have been killed for either refusing to adhere to the hardline restrictions or for daring to speak out against them.

The worrying news was revealed by experts from the campaign group Human Rights Watch (HRW). José Miguel Vivanco, HRW’s Americas director, said the shocking developments are down to the failure to keep control over swathes of Colombia after decades of in-fighting.

“In communities across Colombia, armed groups have violently enforced their own measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19,” he said. “This abusive social control reflects the government’s long-standing failure to establish a meaningful state presence in remote areas of the country, including to protect at-risk populations.”

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