The United States named two of Guinea-Bissau’s top military officers as international drug kingpins, underscoring fears the West African state is being destabilised by the narcotics trade.
Air Force chief of staff Ibraima Papa Camara and former Navy chief of staff Jose Americo Bubo Na Tchuto are the first Bissau officials overtly accused by Washington as involved in the drug trade. The influential Na Tchuto appears to have been central to the ousting of military leadership by an army faction last week.
“The action underscores the harmful role that narcotics-related corruption plays in West Africa, especially in Guinea-Bissau,” Adam Szubin, head of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in a statement yesterday.
US citizens will be banned from financial or commercial transactions with the two, who will see any .S assets frozen. Szubin said the action “impedes their ability to profit from the narcotics trade and engage in destabilizing activities”.
The Treasury Department said both Na Tchuto and Camara are involved in drug trafficking and are linked to an aircraft suspected of flying a multi-hundred kilogram shipment of cocaine from Venezuela to Guinea-Bissau in July 2008.
There was no immediate reaction from authorities in Bissau.
Guinea-Bissau has faced years of instability since independence from Portugal in 1974. A jagged shoreline and high level corruption in Guinea-Bissau have helped Latin American cocaine smugglers ship cocaine through the nation into Europe.
Officials say that the drugs trade, worth hundreds of millions of dollars in one of Africa’s poorest nations, has exacerbated existing political fault lines, and intensified the military’s readiness to intervene in politics.
Last year, the nation’s president and former armed forces chief were killed in twin assassinations.
During the latest round of in-fighting last week, soldiers briefly held Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior and ousted armed forces Chief of Staff Admiral Jose Zamora Induta.
That incident was preceded by the re-emergence of Na Tchuto, an ally of new armed forces Chief General Antonio Injai, from refuge in a UN building.
Na Tchuto was accused of plotting a 2008 coup and was due to be handed over to Gomes’ government for trial.
The US Treasury Department said Na Tchuto “was complicit in the activities surrounding the illegal detention” of Gomes.
Donors had hoped that successful elections last year would pave the way for a fresh start but analysts say key reforms of the all-powerful army have blocked meaningful change.
Pic: Guinea Bissau troop