Drug trafficking in the Strait of Gibraltar has claimed more than 20 lives since 2016

by Lorraine Williamson
drug trafficking

The southern coast of Spain is struggling with a growing number of drug gangs. Perpetrators of drug trafficking often go unpunished. The problem of drug trafficking has been known for a long time. Anti-drug associations, police officers and the public prosecutor’s office in Andalucia have been denouncing this for years. 

In the Strait of Gibraltar, drug trafficking is becoming increasingly violent and there are more deaths. On Friday, two officers of the Civil Guard were killed. It is the latest addition to a long list of more than 20 homicides and fatalities in the past eight years. 

Fatal crash in Barbate 

The fatal crash that took the lives of two police officers on Friday is still considered manslaughter by the court. But this could be extended to more crimes, such as assault on authority. It depends on the outcome of the investigation. If it turns out that some of the eight people arrested acted intentionally, it is a case of murder. For the time being, the detainees are still being held in the cells of the Civil Guard.  They are likely to be in court on Monday. 

The main suspect in the case is F.J.M.P., known as Kiko El Cabra. According to the Guardia Civil, 46-year-old man, born in La Línea de la Concepción, was driving the drug boat. El Cabra has a history of resistance, disobedience and whitewashing. This impulsive drug trafficker can also be linked to a drug gang known as the Pezpus, operating between the Campo de Gibraltar area and Marbella. 

El Cabra’s violent way of acting is neither new nor surprising. Older drug traffickers – who are now “retired” – have been warning for years that the new generations of drug traffickers are more aggressive and brazen.  Losing is not an option in the cat-and-mouse game.  In addition, the drug traffickers always have weapons at their disposal. 

Settling scores between drug gangs 

Researchers believe that one of the main causes for the increased aggressiveness is settling scores and robberies between gangs. Since 2016 – when drug trafficking began to gain a foothold in the Campo de Gibraltar area – most of the deaths recorded in drug trafficking incidents were not from firearms. 

Also in the confrontation with officers, the vehicle itself is used as a lethal weapon, either for chases that eventually go wrong, or for its deliberate use. This happened for the first time at La Línea de la Concepción, when Víctor Sánchez died in June 2017 while chasing tobacco smugglers. He is the first in a list of up to six officers who have died in the line of duty while trying to fight smugglers. 

In addition to the two officers killed on Friday, Fermín Cabazas – who died in Los Barrios in May 2019 after colliding with a truck during a chase – and Agustín Cárdenas also died earlier. The latter was killed in May 2021 near Jerez de la Frontera (Cádiz), when the driver of a Renault Megane drove into him. 

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Deaths and injuries due to drug trafficking 

In recent years, chases in the fight against drug trafficking have resulted in dozens of injuries in addition to deaths. Drug traffickers don’t want to lose their trade, and if they have to kill for it, they will,” says the professional association of the Guardia Civil (AUGC) in Cádiz. At sea, clashes are often even bloodier. Still, Friday’s accident is the first in which there were deaths on the side of the Guardia Civil. Consequently, a new red line has been crossed. More reason for the professional associations of the Guardia Civil to express their indignation. 

Professional association AUGC has called for the resignation of Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska. The JUCIL wants a congressional investigative committee to assess whether there was inaction on the part of the government. 

Victims among drug traffickers 

All in all, the increased power of the narco-boats, with scarce security measures for the occupants, also causes more fatalities among the drug traffickers. 

In November 2016, four alleged smugglers died after a collision with a customs surveillance vessel. After that, another eight suspects were killed while fleeing from officers. Two of them died in March 2020 after a Gibraltar police boat ran over them. 

The last drug trafficker killed took place just 12 days ago. That was after a collision with a Guardia Civil patrol boat in the Guadalquivir River. 

Furthermore, in January 2020, six sailors died in the Strait of Gibraltar aboard  the Rúa Mar, a fishing boat allegedly loaded with hashish, and in May 2021, the drowning of two tobacco smugglers unleashed a wave of anger in La Línea de la Concepción. 

Drug trafficking leads to social unrest and insecurity 

After each victim, a period of social insecurity begins. Many local residents are holding their breath about the consequences of drug trafficking. In May 2018, there were massive demonstrations after a six-year-old boy was hit by a human smuggler’s boat on the beach in La Línea. After that, the government chose to draw up the special security plan for the Campo de Gibraltar. This has already been extended four times. Minister Marlaska emphasised this, as recently as Friday, shortly before the murder of the two officers. After Friday, the tension has flared up again.

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