It may or may not be a happy Valentine’s Day for drug cartels in Colombia.
On Valentine’s Day, about 75 percent of flowers sold in the U.S. are imported from Colombia, and cartels reportedly seize upon that opportunity to attempt to smuggle cocaine among the roses that are grown in flower farms around Bogota.
This scenario perhaps gives a new meaning to the adage, stop and smell the roses.
Colombia is said to be the world’s second-largest exporter of flowers (behind only the Netherlands), but is the primary supplier to the U.S., with Ecuador taking most of the rest of the market share in our country.
Valentine’s Day demand for roses reportedly employs 100,000-plus workers at hundreds of farms in Colombia, and their hard work results in the shipment of a staggering 500 million stems to the U.S. and other countries.
When it comes to the possibility of cocaine being slipped into shipments leaving Colombia for other countries, an official with the Colombian flower exporters’ group acknowledged that “without a doubt, we’re a target.” He added that inspecting the shipments are crucially important for the entire industry, because a nation could ban flower imports from Colombia if drugs make it through the supply chain to the destination country despite the security protocols.
Ironically perhaps, for a crop substitution effort, authorities have apparently encouraged flower cultivation as part of an alternative program to growing coca crops. “Colombia’s flower industry took off in the early 1990s when the U.S. Congress passed a law eliminating tariffs on goods from Andean drug-producing nations in a bid to encourage legal exports,” AP added about the blossoming, as it were, rose business.
In 2016, law enforcement officers in the Central American country discovered about 200 pounds of cocaine in flower boxes after they arrived in refrigerated trucks. As a result, this year 100 vigilant cops, assisted by 15 drug-sniffing dogs and scanning devices, inspect flower boxes containing rose buds that are kept in refrigerated warehouses at the airport before they are loaded onto cargo planes during the peak season in the run-up to Valentine’s Day.
Last year police found almost 200 pounds of cocaine hidden in flower boxes https://t.co/FPZn7RlIdj
— New York Post (@nypost) February 14, 2017
“[E]very year, police and growers in Colombia must work around the clock to make sure that the romance of Valentine’s Day isn’t spoiled by the drug, the nation’s other major export along with flowers. As much as 330,000 pounds (150 metric tons) of flowers leave Colombia on 30-plus jumbo cargo planes daily starting in late January, presenting an opportunity for the country’s ingenious drug cartels to penetrate the frenzied, overworked chain of suppliers and stash drugs amid the roses,” AP explained.
In the past, cocaine was often hidden between stems, petals, and roots according to InSight Crime. In addition to the U.S., Colombian cartels have also attempted to smuggle narcotics in flower shipments to Russia, France, elsewhere in Europe, and Australia in recent years.
— InSight Crime (@InSightCrime) February 14, 2017
“When you stick your face into a fresh bouquet of Valentine’s Day flowers and take a deep whiff, you’re not expecting to inhale a bunch of cocaine. That would be a huge problem, and one that flower exporters in South America are working hard to prevent in order to protect their business (and your noses),” the Consumerist noted about the smuggling issue.
The journey from flower farm to the U.S. takes one or two days at most, Forbes explained. “The key words of fresh cut flower logistics are ‘speed’ and ‘refrigeration.’ Farmers in Latin America cut flowers at dawn and immediately pack them in temperature-controlled coolers, and these coolers are sent to the airport right away. Cargo airplanes then fly them directly to the US. Ninety percent of imported flowers came through Miami international airport last year.”
In addition to Valentine’s Day, a spike in flower sales occur on Christmas and Mothers’ Day.
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