Smuggling and human trafficking of slaves for sex and forced labour flourished along the inglorious free trade routes from China to Rome from the first century B.C. until the Middle Ages. Sex Rings in Westmoorings, Morne Coco and Ariapita and the Venezuelan drug cartel packing house in Regents are simply New World markets along the ancient Silk Roads. Smugglers like the Byzantine emperor Justinian sent covert emissaries, disguised as monks into China, to steal silkworms and traffic them back to the west. Along the Silk Roads miscreants smuggled weapons, armor, gunpowder and maps. Aleppo stood at the crossroads of these longstanding trade routes through Syria since the third millennium BC.
A sarin attack on Ghouta forced activists to smuggle out body tissue of victims. Combatants deployed chemical weapons like chlorine and mustard gas in Silk Road cities like Aleppo. Syria’s proxy war has amplified the magnitude of human trafficking. Drugs crossing Central Asia contribute to the opioid addiction in Russia and North America. Afghan cities like Balkh, Herat and Kabul are midpoints of Central Asia- with ancient Chinese empires to the East and Old Persian kingdoms to the West. Consequently all trade between western and eastern Asia filters through Afghanistan which has always been on the Silk Road.
Even Silk was weaponised along the Old Silk Roads. Prior to becoming Emperor Augustus, Octavian Caesar seized on the controversial topic of silk clothing to denounce his rivals Mark Antony and Cleopatra VII as immoral since they both favoured Chinese silk, which was increasingly becoming associated with licentiousness. Octavian exploited this subtext to destroy his political adversaries. Fashion forwardness was used to plot their fall.
Drugs, human smuggling and illegal migration will remain salient features of the economy in Central Asia far into the future. The corruption of these countries, which fall among the lowest scorers in the world on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, does not augur well for any positive change anytime soon. Inequity in Central Asia has become like the ‘natural resource curse’ for oil-rich countries.
The New Silk Roads and other trade partnerships will expand trade connections across Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and the Caribbean. It will bring some development opportunities but the perils persist and are amplified by the Dark Web. Desperadoes using .onion domains trade credit card numbers, drugs, guns, counterfeit money, and hacked Netflix accounts. The Dark Web is that part of the internet that isn’t indexed by search engines and operates via a network of proxy servers that render IP addresses unidentifiable using Tor.
Before Guaidó and Pompeo, Venezuelan creoles boldly proclaimed their country a Republic in 1797. Their fledgling efforts failed. In 1797, a fleet of 18 warships under Sir Ralph Abercromby invaded Trinidad. The last Spanish Governor, Don José Chacón surrendered Trinidad making the governments of Spain and France the enemies of England. French revolutionaries fleeing neighbouring islands that settled in hamlets like Champs Fleurs and supporting the French Revolution made it impossible for Chacón to govern Trinidad. Commandant Picton was on board one of the 18 British warships.
This was of immense help to the revolutionaries in Caracas who seized the opportunity to smuggle arms and provisions supplied by sympathisers in Trinidad. The Captain General of Caracas wrote to his King noting that the insurgents were prompted by the English Commandant in Trinidad who not only inundated the whole coast of Venezuela with papers both printed and written, but made offers of a powerful protection and of free-trade and extended commerce for the benefit of the people of Caracas. A staggering reward of 20,000 Spanish silver dollars was placed on the head of Picton.
Picton was a brute. He hung, flogged, beheaded, banished and jailed everybody- ‘black is white’. He openly kept an exotic courtesan of indeterminable racial mixture. Spanish Governors before Picton like Martín de Anda y Salazar indulged in contraband. When Picton became aware of any misconduct he would invite the suspect to his home on Charlotte Street where he erected the gallows. He would advise the person to reform themselves or to leave the island- otherwise ‘the wind shall pass between the soles of your feet and the earth.’
In 1999, coastal villages of Venezuela were home to the world’s fourth-largest tuna fishing fleet. 10K tons of tuna, sardine, shark and crab were caught each month. Asian ships sold their catch to local plants, which froze and stored the seafood by the hundreds of tons. When boats needed repairs, captains took them to Güiria- where vessels from Asia and the U.S. could be found in dry dock. Carúpano was known for ship repair but today it is an anchorage for human traffickers and migrant smugglers on the High Seas, the Silk Roads and the Dark Web. Bloomberg describes the Columbus Channel as a roiling arbitrage- of food, weapons, drugs, women, gasoline, cocaine, cigarettes and coiled anacondas- between the desperate and the profit-minded. Governance invisible- outlaws everywhere.
Today, fugitives and asylum applicants give rise to a different set of trafficking, smuggling and immigration problems. Australian immigration policies emphasize skill-based selection criteria for university educated migrants. In Chile, Band-Aid solutions exacerbated the crisis as the rights of migrants spiralled without changes to core legislation. Both countries have now interwoven immigration reform, trade policy and labour law with the needs of industry to drive competitiveness.