The arrest this month of a medical student who flew to Madrid with a kilo (more than 2 pounds) of cocaine in his intestines has awakened Puerto Rico to the phenomenon of drug “mules.” The story of 23-year-old Kelvin Concepcion Bonilla, who was attending medical school in the Dominican Republic, has shaken Puerto Rican society, a country that for its geographical position is a “bridge” for the illegal drug trade between South America and the United States.
Puerto Ricans and particularly the parents of Bonilla are asking how a student from a model family could become a mule, a practice that up to now was seen as the province of impoverished youths. Ralph Otero, former security chief of the Puerto Rico Ports Authority, told Efe on Friday that the high jobless rate caused by the recession is pushing many young people to act as mules.
The specialist said that the tough economic situation beleaguering the island for more than four years has pushed young people into this criminal activity, including supposedly exemplary citizens like Bonilla. “Many young Puerto Ricans go to the Dominican Republic looking for opportunities,” Otero said, adding that when their plans go awry they’re forced to do anything for money, even if it’s against the law.
Otero said that mules aren’t forced to go their destinations – the continental United States and Europe – but they do go under certain forms of extortion or pressure, as, he said, could have been the case with the now widely reported Bonilla. As to how many Puerto Ricans become mules, he said that there are no official statistics on the matter, but recalled that the 52 flights that take off and land in Puerto Rico every day make the Caribbean island a hub for drug trafficking.
For his part, Puerto Rican police inspector Pedro Sánchez told Efe that there are no statistics for this criminal activity. Sánchez stressed that this is a very difficult activity to detect and one that is often a last resort for people being pressured or who have to settle debts, often related to drug trafficking. The police inspector said that while Bonilla was arrested in the Spanish capital, Puerto Rican mules generally consider big U.S. cities to be their preferred destinations.
Mules who use Puerto Rico as their point of departure can earn $7,000 to $15,000 per trip, according to the experts consulted.
The phenomenon of mules in Puerto Rico seemed forgotten until last week when the Bonilla case hit the all the country’s front pages and TV news programs after his parents reported that he had gone missing. Bonilla was arrested at Madrid’s Barajas International Airport with more than 90 capsules of 10-12 grams each inside his body.
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