Printer Friendly

Cocaine in your coffee?

Cocaine in your coffee?

From New York to Florida, from Texas to San Francisco, the U.S. Customs Service is working hard to halt the flow of cocaine into this country. What does this have to do with the coffee trade? Enough, apparently, for Customs to step up its inspection of coffee shipments entering the U.S., especially those originating from Latin America. U.S. Customs won't reveal the volume of cocaine they suspect is being smuggled via coffee imports, but one can only assume it must be big enough to warrant the attention they are currently lavishing on our industry.

In a letter to the president of the National Coffee Association (NCA), the Assistant Commissioner with the Office of Inspection and Control writes: "As you may have heard, there has been an increase in smuggling using coffee. In the latest attempts, smugglers place cocaine in legitimate shipments overseas and remove it after arrival in the United States, without the importers' knowledge."

The word in the trade is that there will be a minimum 30-day period beginning late November during which Customs will inspect 100% of the coffee containers entering the U.S. When asked about this new policy, a Northern California Customs official would neither confirm nor deny this 100% figure. We were told by another source, however, that the San Francisco Customs Office would not inspect coffee imports more than 100%. (One individual was kind enough to point out to me that a shipment can be examined more than once, hence more than 100%.)

More complaints about longer delays at port had begun to come in toward the end of November, as the article was being written, which suggests that U.S. Customs is indeed intensifying its efforts. Says George Boecklin, president of the NCA, they are simply "operating as needs dictate." Have any particular shippers been targeted? "All are having problems," contends Boecklin: "Cofinco has complained about delays due to inspection of shipments coming into New York, and Cargill has had coffee containers arriving in New York from Colombia and other originating countries carefully examined as well. Inspections are intense on the West Coast and in New York, perhaps as a result of intelligence. But, of course, they're not going to give away their strategy, and we wouldn't ask them to."

Again, although they wouldn't release any exact figures, Michael McMullen, Program Officer with the Office of Inspectional Enforcement Liaison, did tell us that they are averaging about one seizure a month in connection with the coffee industry nationwide. "Miami has been a main concern, though they also made a seizure from a coffee container in Los Angeles within the past several months."

McMullen assures us that the vast majority of people associated with coffee importing out of Colombia and around the world are legitimate enterprises. Nevertheless, they believe there is a growing trend toward "piggybacking," or smuggling in the cargo of legitimate coffee businesses, which has forced them to broaden their investigations rather than focus in on companies which may have raised their suspicions for one reason or another. By intensifying their inspection of all coffee imports now, Customs hopes to discourage this practice in the long run.

If narcotics are being placed in U.S. bound shipments on a random basis, Customs has to inspect many more containers, and that, unfortunately, is affecting many well-established businesses. "It can cost an importer an additional cent per pound on containers that are stripped in coffee warehouses, but as much as 2 to 3 cents per pound for coffee inspected at non-coffee warehouses," explains Bob King at Harold King & Company in San Francisco. "That can be the difference between a profit and a loss in many cases." Working with the San Francisco Customs Office, King has requested that more designated coffee warehouses be used so that the additional expense of inspection, which is not passed along by importers to their customers, can be kept to a minimum.

According to both Boecklin and McMullen, the inspections will consist of "tailgating," or on-site inspection as the shipment is unloaded rather than requiring containers to be stripped. This will save importers both money and time. Boecklin is working closely with U.S. Customs to minimize delays at port and streamline the inspection process. As part of this effort, the NCA has sent out questionnaires, asking members to provide information regarding those individuals responsible for the importing of coffee, contact people in producing countries, lists of legitimate exporters etc. The response rate has been very high. All this information is being compiled on a data base to allow customs officials to look for possible patterns or associations.

Which countries of origin seem to be the primary sources of cocaine smuggling with coffee? Colombia is apparently not the only country U.S. Customs is worried about.

The Customs Service focuses its attention on shipment, originating from Central and South America. While Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia are considered the primary source countries for narcotics, shipments coming out of Panama and Honduras, for example, are also being scrutinized more closely. These countries have become known as "transshipment countries" from which cocaine has been hidden in outgoing shipments even though they themselves are not major producers of narcotics. U.S. Customs believes that smugglers have increasingly turned to these alternative transshipment countries to avoid the close examination that a container originating in, say, Colombia, would receive.

U.S. Customs has several theories about how cocaine is able to make its way into coffee containers. Typically, coffee is transported over land from a processing facility to port in the producing country. It may then sit at port for some time awaiting a vessel. It is at these times, while the cargo is accessible and left relatively unattended, that smugglers have the opportunity to conceal cocaine in the coffee.

As Boecklin pointed out, however, "it takes two to tango." Once the contraband has been placed into a shipment, it must also be retrieved once it reaches the U.S. shores but before it ever reaches the U.S. importer's offices. If Customs does not find smuggled cocaine during inspection, it may move as far as the roasting plant, although he is not aware of any such instances. The National Coffee Association has covered this possibility as well and has sent out information sheets instructing members on who to contact should they discover any such substances in their deliveries.

For further information, U.S. Customs requests that you first contact the appropriate trade representatives, George Boecklin of the National Coffee Association (212) 344-2233, or Bob King, Chair of the Transportation Committee with the Pacific Coast Coffee Association (415) 368-2233.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:cocaine smuggling through coffee importing
Author:Hackeling, Joan
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Dec 1, 1990
Previous Article:The golden cups of Finland.
Next Article:Commitment to customer service.

Related Articles
Colombia: for anti-drug aid, some pro-coffee aid should be expected.
Coffee and tea production in Bolivia.
Hungary - surely this is not a former Eastern Bloc country.
Watch your beans.
Tuna, drugs and Mexico.
Cocaine smuggler convicted.
Cocaine kings target Kenya: the seizure, on Kenya's tourist-paradise coastline, of the largest ever drugs haul in Africa has confirmed worries that...
Airline official arrested on drug charges.
Key drug smuggling route.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters