“There is a sense of total impunity,” said Juan Franco, mayor of La Linea de la Concepcion, a poor city on Spain's southern tip that looks out onto the huge rock of Gibraltar.
In this 63,000-strong city bordering the British overseas territory, “the final straw” came on April 16th, according to Raul Zambrana of the AEGC association which represents members of the Guardia Civil police force.
Zambrana whipped out his mobile phone and showed a video of masked men unloading a cargo of hashish in broad daylight in the fishing port of La Linea while close to 100 people nearby threw stones at police trying to stop them.
“They've been unloading drugs day after day, month after month, year after year, and given the government hasn't done anything, they think it's an acquired right and a way of life,” Zambrana said.
'David against Goliath'
A young man who works some 80 kilometres (50 miles) away in the coastal village of Zahara de los Atunes and has witnessed the comings and goings of narcos said boats loaded with Moroccan hashish “come all the time” to unload on beaches.
And narcos have the process well organised. “There is always a team of men, some to collect the drug packages, others to transport it by car, still others to stand guard,” he said, refusing to give his name for fear of retaliation.
Once that is done, the drug traffickers – most of whom are Spanish and locals – do not hesitate to challenge police to make sure their wares arrive safely at their hiding places.
Paco Mena, head of the Alternativas anti-drugs association, said “they use three cars: one at the front to give warnings, the other that carries the drugs and a third to charge” at police cars if necessary.
Jose Cobo, spokesman for the AEGC, confirmed the process, adding that narco boats even target police crafts – a dangerous situation that has the Guardia Civil condemning a lack of resources.
Guardia Civil and residents demonstrate to demand more resources to fight drug trafficking and tobacco smuggling,Photo: Jorge Guerrero / AFP
As one example, said Jose Encinas of the AUGC Guardia Civil association, the traffickers' boats are much faster than those belonging to police.
Zambrana compared the fight to that of “David against Goliath.”
Both associations want at least 200 extra agents dispatched to the zone.
In La Linea, for instance, “police have six cars, but five are being repaired,” said mayor Juan Franco, who called on the state to intervene as his city hall is “completely bankrupt” and doesn't have “the expertise nor the means” to fight the traffickers.
'Ideal circumstances for mafias'
Cadiz province, where La Linea and Zahara de los Atunes are located, is particularly badly affected by the drug trafficking due to its geographic and socio-economic situations.
It is the entry point in Europe for hashish from Morocco which is then pushed north to Europe. According to official data, 40 percent of all drugs seized in Spain last year were intercepted in Cadiz.
Cadiz also has the highest unemployment rate in Spain, standing at 35 percent.
Franco said these are “ideal circumstances for mafias to take root,” as he acknowledged that in some districts, like the one where residents threw stones at police, people are afraid of speaking out.
In this context, “many people are ready to risk their life” in the drug business where they can earn €2,000 ($2,200) in 20 minutes by guarding a drug delivery, said Mena.
Police on Sunday said they had detained 30 members of “Los Castañas,” which they described as “the biggest organisation dedicated to the traffic of hashish” in the region.
They seized a tonne of the drug, 16 vehicles and three boats, among other things.
But Franco complained that “in many cases, they are captured, brought to justice, they post bail and are out the next day.”
For Mena, the solution would be more police officers to fight the traffickers, stricter sentences for offences and an ambitious plan to root out unemployment, starting with those districts where 80 percent of young people are without a job.
By AFP's Álvaro Villalobos