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Belén Moncada Durruti, Ph.D. in History, University of Navarra, Spain

Mules in Spain

Tue, 30 Nov 2010 12:11:03 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

Thousands of young people in countries such as Colombia, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Central America or West Africa offer to cross borders carrying drugs in their bellies in exchange for money. This "human courier" or "mules", as they are commonly known, is almost always made up of people of limited economic resources who come from populations where there is hardly any public health care network and Education. In most cases they are young women lured by the lure of easily accessible money, since it is a "work" that, at most, can keep them busy for two months between training and travel, and is very well paid.

A woman can carry in her digestive tract or vagina up to 3 kg of drugs in small capsules the thickness of a finger, lined with latex and smeared with honey to facilitate ingestion. Women are often more "valuable" as mules than men and, above all, pregnant women, because of their greater chances of evading airport controls.

However, the results are sometimes not as expected: these human couriers are often arrested and sent to jail. This same newspaper recently published the news of the (more) pregnant "mule" arrested in Madrid. Other times, the trip ends in death, due to the rupture inside the stomach of the drug capsules ingested.

The suffering of these "belly mules" before, during and after work is enormous from an emotional and social point of view. For months they are subjected to harsh psychological and physical training to biologically and chemically adapt their bodies to the new substance, swallow it and transport it. And, although it may seem almost unbelievable to us, the issue of "mules" in the Western world is very high and growing day by day. It is estimated that for every "human courier" of this subject that is arrested, many more manage to cross the borders. They are not aware, I am afraid, of the real magnitude of the structure of the network where they are inserted.

Are these countries so economically needy, and are young Dominican or Colombian women so money-conscious that they defy death in this way? Surely a high percentage of them do. But what is most surprising is that in recent years men and women from not so disadvantaged social strata have also offered themselves as "mules". Perhaps the social recognition that money brings, the opportunities it generates in today's world -where having and being able to spend is the most valued thing-, makes the market for "mules" grow out of ambition rather than necessity.

Spain has always been a transit territory and, as such, a route of entrance for South American drugs into Europe. The airports of Nordic countries no longer trust Spanish students; the Dominican cartels have several apartments in Madrid, Granada or the Canary Islands; and drug trafficking routes are constantly reinvented in different parts of our geography. Just like the cartels from which they originate, drug trafficking routes are quickly redrawn, depending on the greater or lesser degree of police control. It is not surprising, therefore, that today more than 40% of the cocaine produced in the Andes arrives in Europe from West Africa. The structure of drug trafficking networks is increasingly complex and difficult to decipher.

In any case, we cannot forget that, if there is an increasingly flourishing drug trafficking, it is due to the constant demand from the continents with purchasing power (North America and Europe). Until international organizations and our public authorities decide to firmly combat both commercialization and consumption, we cannot expect the "mules" to die out in our country.