I don’t like to think of myself as naive, especially when it comes to drugs, but every now and then I read something that shocks me. This week I was hit with a double whammy- an article in the Guardian about Wachovia’s complicity in the laundering of Mexican drug money, and a Wall Street Journal article about an extradition fight between the US and Venezuela for a drugs kingpin- Walid ‘the Turk’ Makled.

In the constant drip drip in the news of a $1mn bust here, and a $500,000 seizure there, I guess I must have lost sight of how much drugs money is actually sloshing around in the system. Wachovia bank was recently fined $110mn for

failing to apply the proper anti-laundering strictures to the transfer of $378.4bn… into dollar accounts from so-called casas de cambio (CDCs) in Mexico, currency exchange houses with which the bank did business

That’s not to say that all of the money was dirty, or even that all of it was drugs money. But some of it definitely was:

“On numerous occasions,” say the court papers, “monies were deposited into a CDC by a drug-trafficking organisation. Using false identities, the CDC then wired that money through its Wachovia correspondent bank accounts for the purchase of airplanes for drug-trafficking organisations.” … “nearly $13m went through correspondent bank accounts at Wachovia for the purchase of aircraft to be used in the illegal narcotics trade. From these aircraft, more than 20,000kg of cocaine were seized.”

$378.4bn!!! The article equates the money to a third of Mexico’s GDP. The Information is Beautiful Site has a helpful guide for visualizing what a billion dollars looks like.

$378.4bn is more than all of Africa’s debt to the West, but less than it would cost to feed every child on Earth for five years. Why are we leaving this money, untaxed, in the hands of criminals?  Why are we letting it finance wars, and corruption, and violence, and murder?  What the fuck are we playing at? The $110mn fine that Wachovia paid is about 0.02% of that amount.

Speaking of wars and corruption leads me to the second story of the week to leave me open-mouthed as I read. The US and Venezuela are currently in a tussle over the extradition of “a king among kingpins” currently held in a Colombian jail. According to US officials:

At the height of his power, Mr Makled…smuggled 10 tons of cocaine a month into the US from Venezuela…He controlled Venezuela’s most important port and allegedly added to his transport empire by, in effect, stealing an entire airline…

I’m sorry…did you say airline?

“In 2008, Mr Makled bought a controlling interest in Aeropostal SA, then the country’s largest privately owned airline.”

He also “operated about half the warehouses and loading docks in Puerto Cabello”, Venezuela’s largest port. The DEA implicates top Venezuelan government officials in Makled’s operation, and in one interview to Colombian television, Makled said “If I’m a drug dealer, then all of them are drug dealers too.”

Oh, and by the way- 1o tons of cocaine? That’s 9,071,840 grams. A month.

So…there we have it. The two stories that made me question my naivety this weekend. Beyond befuzzled. This week I am flabbergasted.