A US drugs sting targeting Guinea-Bissau’s top military brass may freeze cocaine smuggling through the tiny West African state in the short term, but could jeopardize efforts to restore order after a coup last year.
The US Department of Justice on Thursday accused Guinea Bissau Armed Forces Chief General Antonio Indjai of plotting to traffic cocaine to the US and sell weapons to Colombia’s FARC rebels, after a months-long undercover operation that has also ensnared a former Guinean navy chief.
However, Indjai — widely seen as the country’s most powerful man — remains in Bissau after evading the sting and the big question is how he will react to becoming a target for US law enforcement agents.
US undercover agents snared Guinea-Bissau’s former navy chief, Rear Admiral Jose Americo Bubo Na Tchuto, in the high-seas drugs sting on April 2 — the most high-profile score in the US war on drugs in Africa.
Na Tchuto — better known as Bubo — and two other defendants, Papis Djeme and Tchamy Yala, appeared in a New York court on April 5. They were ordered detained without bail for plotting to aid cocaine shipments from Latin America reach markets in the US and Europe.
Sources say Indjai was also targeted, but he dodged the planned arrest by refusing to meet the undercover agents in international waters.
Indjai has previously denied links with drugs smuggling.
Guinea-Bissau’s caretaker government is due to publish a road map to elections next month that African and Western diplomats hope will close the book on decades of turmoil since independence from Portugal in 1974.
Repeated coups, political assassinations and a civil war have weakened Guinea-Bissau’s law enforcement and paved the way for Colombian cartels to use it as a transhipment hub for tonnes of narcotics destined for Europe and the US.
The country entered its latest crisis in April last year, when the military arrested then-Guinean prime minister Carlos Gomes Junior and acting Guinean president Raimundo Pereira in the midst of an election that Gomes Junior was poised to win.
Indjai, who accused Gomes Junior of plotting to replace Guinea-Bissau’s army leadership, seized control in the wake of the putsch. He ceded power a month later to a transitional government led by a civilian, Guinean President Manuel Serifo Nhamadjo. Nhamadjo had been due to hold elections within 12 months, but that plan has now been postponed.