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Colombian drug cartels exporting cocaine underneath Valentine’s day flowers

The season before Valentine's Day is the busiest time of the year for Colombia's growers, when the 130,000 people employed at hundreds of flower farms work nonstop to ship some 500 million stems

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Cocaine is probably the last thing most people think about when buying roses. But every year, police and growers in Colombia must work around the clock to make sure that the romance of Valentine’s Day isn’t spoiled by the drug, the nation’s other major export along with flowers.

As much as 330,000 pounds (150 metric tons) of flowers leave Colombia on 30-plus jumbo cargo planes daily starting in late January, presenting an opportunity for the country’s ingenious drug cartels to penetrate the frenzied, overworked chain of suppliers and stash drugs amid the roses.

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“Without a doubt we’re a target,” said Augusto Solano, president of the Colombian flower exporters’ association.

Security protocols that the flower industry developed with police begin the moment that refrigerated trucks carrying rose buds depart dozens of flower farms dotting the waterlogged savannah surrounding Colombia’s capital. Once the flowers are inside the airport, 100 police offices equipped with 15 drug-sniffing dogs and electronic scanners inspect each shipment.

Last year, police said they found almost 200 pounds (90 kilograms) of cocaine hidden in flower boxes.

“We have to guarantee that our flower exports aren’t contaminated by criminal gangs,” Col. Julio Triana said as he and his drug-sniffing Labrador retriever walked through the refrigerated warehouse where flowers are kept before being loaded onto cargo planes.

Colombia’s flower industry took off in the early 1990s when the U.S. Congress passed a law eliminating tariffs on goods from Andean drug-producing nations in a bid to encourage legal exports. That Colombia’s criminals now train their eyes on flower shipments as a way to smuggle drugs into the U.S. is a sign of just how much the industry has blossomed. It is now is the world’s second-largest cut flower exporter, after the Netherlands, and the top supplier to the U.S.

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The season before Valentine’s Day is the busiest time of the year for Colombia’s growers, when the 130,000 people employed at hundreds of flower farms work nonstop to ship some 500 million stems, mostly to the United States but other parts of the world as well.

“Right now there’s not a single rose available,” said Solano.

But with competitors from Kenya and Ecuador making inroads, the industry isn’t taking its leadership for granted and works hard to keep out smuggled drugs.

“It requires a big effort because if another country finds drugs they can ban flower imports from Colombia and that would be disastrous,” Solano said. (VOA)

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To Fight The U.S. Opioid Epidemic, Bloomberg Donates $50Mn

Bloomberg, who has been an independent, a Republican and a Democrat, declared lifetime allegiance to the Democratic Party.

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Opioid Epidemic
Former mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg speaks to the media in Jackson, Miss., Nov. 29, 2018. Bloomberg’s philanthropy has announced a $50 million donation to help fight the nation’s opioid epidemic. VOA

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s charity has announced a $50 million donation to help fight the nation’s opioid epidemic.

Bloomberg Philanthropies said over the next three years it will help up to 10 states address the causes of opioid addiction and strengthen prevention and treatment programs. Its initiative involves a partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The Pew Charitable Trusts, Johns Hopkins University and Vital Strategies.

Bloomberg, who has been considering a 2020 Democratic presidential bid, was expected to discuss the funding Friday during his keynote address at The Bloomberg American Health Summit in Washington. A spokeswoman said there was “no stated link” between his political aspirations and the $50 million investment to fight opioids.

Bloomberg’s charity said CDC data shows there were more than 70,000 U.S. drug overdose deaths last year, including more than 47,000 from opioids, the highest numbers on record. It said those numbers are a leading factor in the decline of U.S. life expectancy over the past three years.

Bloomberg called the sobering numbers part of “a national crisis.”

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Cataldo Ambulance medics and other first responders revive a 32-year-old man who was found unresponsive and not breathing after an opioid overdose on a sidewalk in the Boston suburb of Everett, Massachusetts, Aug. 23, 2017. VOA

“For the first time since World War I, life expectancy in the U.S. has declined over the past three years — and opioids are a big reason why,” he said. “We cannot sit by and allow this alarming trend to continue — not when so many Americans are being killed in what should be the prime of their lives.”

He said in a statement he hoped his charity’s work in Pennsylvania, one of the states hardest hit by the opioids crisis, would lay the groundwork “for more effective action across the country.”

The partnership focuses on identifying new approaches to tackle opioids and plugging gaps in current treatment and prevention programs. Staff members from partner organizations will support state and local programs to reduce opioid-related deaths, and successful initiatives and guidelines will be replicated elsewhere, with the goal of creating a model for the rest of the nation.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf said he was “deeply grateful” for the financial and technical resources his state will receive through the partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Melania Trump, epidemic
Melania Trump calls opioid epidemic ‘worst drug crisis’ in US.

“From our first responders and health care professionals to teachers and social service providers, heroes across our commonwealth are saving lives and protecting residents in our communities every day from this awful scourge,” Wolf, a Democrat, said in a statement issued by the Bloomberg charity. “We are doing everything we can to help them, and I am confident that this partnership will mark a turning point in our efforts.”

Also Read: Melania Trump Calls Opioid Epidemic The ‘Worst Drug Crisis’ in American Histroy

The Drug Enforcement Administration said this month in its National Drug Threat Assessment that heroin, fentanyl and other opioids continue to be the highest drug threat in the nation.

Bloomberg, who has been an independent, a Republican and a Democrat, declared lifetime allegiance to the Democratic Party and outlined an aggressive timeline for deciding whether to run for president in an interview with The Associated Press this month. He has regularly criticized President Donald Trump and spent a fortune to help elect Democrats in the midterm elections. (VOA)