Crime & Justice

Antwerp now cocaine’s ‘gateway to Europe’ as city sees rising drug violence

By Marta Borrás

Brussels, Jan 21 (EFE).- The port of Antwerp, one of the largest in the world, has become the “gateway for cocaine in Europe”, which has led to rising levels of violence by criminal drug trafficking organizations that is without precedent in the country.

Despite the worrying trend, experts insist that Belgium is still far from becoming a “narco-state”.

“To say that (Belgium) is a narco-state is to say that the entire political, judicial and police apparatus would be infiltrated by traffickers. I think we are very far from that,” the president of the trial court of Namur, Christian De Valkeneer, tells Efe.

“There may be problems in some services, but what is happening now is something very rare and limited,” he says.

The Prosecutor General of Brussels, Johan Delmulle, was the first to use the term, saying in September that the country could soon be described as a “narco-state”.

Even the Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo has acknowledged in several interviews with the national media that the situation is “critical”.

Two recent events have drawn particular attention to the level of violence used by drug trafficking networks, starting with the death this month in Antwerp of an eleven-year-old girl in a shooting at her family’s home.

The mayor of Antwerp, Flemish nationalist Bart De Wever, attributed the attack to a settling of scores between rival drug trafficking gangs.

Threats to the Belgian justice minister, the Flemish liberal Vincent Van Quickenborne, who has had to go into hiding with his family twice, have also caused concern.

The president of the trial court of Namur says he is unaware if other magistrates have received similar warnings, although he does not rule out the possibility.

“When we look at other neighbors, such as the Netherlands (…) we observe that there are people threatened, journalists, lawyers, there have even been deaths.

“There is a lot of money at stake in this cocaine trafficking (…) that sharpens the appetite and rivalry between criminal groups that live off cocaine trafficking (…) Those who are in these activities are capable of resorting to extreme means to keep their positions,” De Valkeneer says.

The volume of drugs seized in the port of Antwerp has risen to a record 110 million tons of cocaine last year, something that is related to the “increase in cocaine production in the world”.

In Antwerp there are also several factors that have made the port a favorite of criminal gangs in Europe.

On the one hand, it is a large port that moves an enormous number of containers and “controlling them is complicated”.

At the same time, Antwerp is probably “suffering from the effectiveness of the controls” in the port of Rotterdam, De Valkeneer says.

“We have found that when controls are reinforced at a port, there is a displacement of the arrival points of cocaine (…) There is always a knock-on effect.”

In recent weeks there has been much talk about how to tackle the drug trafficking problem in the country.

The request to deploy the army in the port of Antwerp has been gaining support among Belgian politicians, although it does not have the support of the federal government.

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