/ 16 November 2007

UN says cocaine-snorting stars harm Africa

Use of cocaine by celebrities is encouraging a trade that destroys whole communities in Latin America and Africa, the United Nations’ top anti-crime official said on Thursday.

”One song, one picture, one quote that makes cocaine look cool can undo millions of dollars worth of anti-drug education and prevention,” read the text of a speech by the head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa.

”All these celebrity role models, turned into junkies, have in fact spent a lot of time in rehab lately, and their lives are a mess,” he said at a conference in Madrid.

Europe must redirect anti-narcotics programmes to target consumption of cocaine, which has been making inroads at the expense of heroin, he said, adding that the proportion of Britons using cocaine had doubled over 10 years to 2,6% of the population and rates were even higher in Spain.

”A sniff here and a sniff there in Europe are causing another disaster in Africa, to add to its poverty, its mass unemployment and its pandemics,” Costa said.

South American cocaine gangs have turned West Africa into a major route for trafficking to Europe, law enforcement officials warn. This can undermine effective governance.

”The vulnerability of these [African] countries to drugs, crime, corruption and poverty is deepening even further to the point that they risk complete collapse,” Costa said.

In Colombia, cocaine has also provided hundreds of millions of dollars to fund Marxist rebels and far-right paramilitaries, claiming thousands of lives a year, mainly poor peasants.

”Europeans now understand that they should not buy blood diamonds, or clothes made by slaves working in sweatshops,” said Costa.

”Even if coke junkies don’t care for the own health, they should certainly take responsibility for the damage done to others.” – Reuters