Portuguese Island 7 Letters
Portuguese Island 7 Letters – In 2001, a smugglers’ yacht ran aground in the Azores and disgorged its contents. The island of São Miguel was soon inundated with high-grade cocaine – and almost 20 years later, it is still feeling the effects.
Around noon on June 6, 2001, residents of Pilar da Bretanha, a parish on the northwest tip of the Atlantic island of São Miguel, saw a white yacht about 40 feet long drifting aimlessly near the steep cliffs in the region. None of the villagers had ever seen a boat of this size floating so close to this part of the coast, where the sea was shallow, the tides strong and the rocks razor-sharp. They assumed it was an amateur sailor who got lost.
Portuguese Island 7 Letters
In fact, the man sailing the boat was a qualified sailor. Two Italian passports, a Spanish passport and a Spanish national identity card were later found in his possession, all of which showed the same 44-year-old man with weathered skin and black, curly hair. But each of the four documents mentioned a different name. In the previous three months he had crossed the Atlantic twice, sailing more than 3,000 miles from the Canary Islands, just west of Morocco, to northeast Venezuela and then back to São Miguel, 1,000 miles to the west. from Portugal.
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Although he was ordered to take the yacht to mainland Spain, his return crossing was difficult. Large swells from the Atlantic swell had hammered the boat, damaging the rudder and leaving it to flounder. Realizing he wouldn’t make it to Spain without stopping, he set sail for São Miguel, the largest of the nine volcanic islands that make up the Azores, a bucolic archipelago first colonized by Portugal in the 15th century. .
But he could not enter the port directly. If port authorities checked his boat, they would find tens of millions of pounds of uncut cocaine, which he was transporting from Venezuela for a gang based in Spain’s Balearic Islands. He had to temporarily get rid of his cargo, and so he began to scour the coast in search of a place to hide the drugs.
São Miguel’s coastline is dotted with secluded caves and coves. The sailor sailed the yacht to a cave near Pilar da Bretanha and began unloading the cocaine, which was bound with plastic and rubber in hundreds of packages the size of building bricks. According to the ensuing police investigation, he secured the contraband with fishing nets and chains, submerging it underwater with an anchor. But as he set sail for the nearest port, a small fishing town called Rabo de Peixe about 15 miles to the southeast, skeins of fog drifted over the cliffs of São Miguel. Another swell began to rise, the waves pounded the rocky coves of the island and the netting holding the cocaine frayed.
F or hundreds of years, most residents of São Miguel have lived from agriculture, fishing, dairy farming or, more recently, government benefits. The island has 140,000 inhabitants, most of whom are separated by only one or two acquaintances. Although the island has the mix of intimacy and claustrophobia that characterizes many small communities, the predictability of life here creates a sense of security that is enhanced by the vast Atlantic Ocean, which barricades Azoreans in a subtropical paradise. “The paradox of the Azores is that you always want to leave when you’re here, and always want to come back when you’re not,” Tiago Melo Bento, a local filmmaker, told me.
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The arrival in the summer of 2001 of more than half a ton of extraordinarily pure cocaine shocked São Miguel. Earlier this year I visited the island to speak to people affected by the influx of cocaine or involved in the search for the smuggler. The stories they told of how drugs had changed the island were by turns bizarre, thrilling, and tragic. In early June 2001, no one expected to still be talking about the effects of cocaine almost two decades later.
On June 7, the day after the yacht was first sighted, a man from Pilar da Bretanha descended a steep path to the small cove where he often fished. On the shore, floating in the waves like a stranded jellyfish, was a large mound covered in black plastic. Under the plastic, the fisherman found dozens of small packages. Some of them were leaking a substance that he said looked a lot like flour. He decided to call the police.
Within hours, local agents had registered some 270 packages of uncut cocaine, weighing 290 kg. It was only the first of many such discoveries. On June 15, more than a week after the first batch was discovered, a man fell 158kg (worth around £16million today) in another cove near Pilar da Bretanha. Two days later, a teacher named Francisco Negalha alerted the police after finding 15 kg on a beach on the other side of the island. “I was scared and hesitant to even approach them,” Negalha told me. “I thought someone was watching me and might kill me if they saw me touching them.” In the space of two weeks, 11 seizures were recorded for a total of just under 500 kg of cocaine.
Not everyone who found packages reported it to authorities. A number of islanders became petty dealers and began transporting cocaine across the island in milk cans, paint cans, and socks. One such report suggested that two fishermen saw the man on the yacht spill some of his cocaine. No one knows how much of the drug they recovered, or when they recovered it, but the stories of these two fishermen have become legendary among drug addicts in São Miguel. I heard that one of these men sold so much of his car that his seats were white with powder. The same man had apparently paid a friend 300g of cocaine just to top up his phone. Other Azoreans were “selling beer glasses full of pure cocaine,” said André Costa, an entrepreneur and musician from the south of the island. Each of these “copos”, which weighed around a third of a pint, held around 150g and cost €20 (£17) – several hundred times cheaper than what it would cost in London today. On June 25, 2001, the headline of the local newspaper, Açoriano Oriental, read: “Police fear massive cocaine trafficking”.
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Prior to the yacht’s arrival, locals had seen little cocaine on the island. It was more common to find heroin or hashish. “Cocaine was an elite drug,” Jose Lopes, one of Portugal’s top judicial police inspectors, told me. “It was expensive.” There was really only one prior trafficking case that people remembered with any clarity. In 1995, an Italian named Marco Morotti was arrested in the port of Ponta Delgada, São Miguel’s largest city, carrying large amounts of dissolved cocaine in gas cans. But Morotti’s product had been seized by police before it reached the islanders.
Now, two types of cocaine circulated in São Miguel: one was the kind of fine white powder familiar from movies and TV shows. The other was yellowish crystals. Most users sniffed the powder, but dissolved the crystals in water and then injected it into their veins. Both methods were powerful. “It was euphoria,” Costa said. “You were floating.” A recovering drug addict from Rabo de Peixe told me that he and a member of his family had consumed more than a kilo in a month. A cop told me the story of a man nicknamed Joaninha, or Ladybird, who clung to a drop of cocaine and water and sat at home getting high for days.
A commodity so valuable to the rest of the world has been rendered almost worthless by abundance. “They had gold, but they didn’t know how to exploit it,” Ruben Frias, the head of the local Rabo de Peixe fishermen’s association, told me. There were rumors that housewives fried mackerel in cocaine, thinking it was flour, and old fishermen poured it into their coffees like sugar. No one knew how many things were still there.
Within 24 hours of arriving in São Miguel, the yachtsman had barely ventured out of his cabin. He had pored over maps and made several phone calls to find out how to fix his boat’s damaged rudder, but he spoke no Portuguese and couldn’t afford to draw more attention to himself than was was absolutely necessary. As he lay in his cramped bunk on the night of June 7, he was unaware that police officers were already watching him.
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José Lopes, the judicial police inspector, had been chosen as one of the leaders of the investigation. At the time, he was 34 years old and had worked eight years as a policeman, including seven in the Azores. He knew the area very well.