View of the A-355, the road between Marbella and Cártama. / JOSELE

A-355 Marbella-Cártama: the road that drug traffickers love

It has become a hotspot for drug smuggling because it is quiet, easily accessible and there are isolated buildings which are not overlooked

ÁLVARO FRÍAS / JUAN CANO MALAGA.

The 42 kilometres of the A-355 road between Marbella and Cártama have become a hotspot for drug trafficking. Cars packed with drugs, mainly hashish, drive along here because the traffickers need a quiet, more discreet route to move the merchandise where there is less chance of being discovered by the authorities. The road is easily accessible and there are numerous remote farm buildings in the area which are ideal for hiding narcotic substances.

The transformation of the A-355 to a hotspot for drugs is a side effect of the Special Plan for the Campo de Gibraltar, which was drawn up by the Ministry of the Interior because towns in that area were becoming increasingly unsafe due to the activities of organised crime gangs, especially drug traffickers. When the Plan was introduced, the criminal groups who used to operate in that area decided to move away, and looked for other suitable places instead.

That's where Malaga province, and especially the Costa del Sol, comes into it. Because of the strong police presence in the Campo de Gibraltar the boats carrying hashish and the nurseries, as the police call the places where the gangs stash their hauls of drugs which arrive by sea, had to relocate.

The gangs obviously didn't want to go far from the Campo de Gibraltar, because the authorities have detected greater activity in areas like Manilva, Casares and Estepona, among others in Malaga province. However, the police presence was also increased there; in fact, the Ministry of the Interior's plan has been extended to the provinces of Malaga and Huelva and that will remain the case for at least the next few years.

This is why the drug traffickers, who are desperate to continue their operations, have continued to look for places in which they can operate without being detected, and that is what has made the A-355 and its surrounding area so popular with them.

An expert in the fight against this type of crime says the traffickers have chosen this area because of its strategic geographical location: "It is close enough to the places where the drugs are brought in by sea and unloaded onto the beach, such as Estepona and Marbella," he explains.

This police officer also points out that the A-355 has very good connections with other roads in the area which are used by the traffickers. It means that in just over half an hour the gangs can move the drugs from Marbella to Cártama without having to use the dual carriageway or the motorway along the Costa del Sol. It also joins the AP-7 toll motorway and the A-357, a highway with two lanes in each direction which enables them to be in Malaga in about 25 minutes.

Hashish nurseries

There are numerous farms along this road, which makes it even more attractive for the drug traffickers who have decided to move their operations to this area. The farms are detached buildings, set apart and out of sight, which the criminals feel safe in using to hide their hauls of drugs.

The police officer we spoke to says that these farms are easy for the gangs to keep an eye on, and that is important because they are keen to prevent other criminal groups stealing their drugs. Also, as well as hiding their stashes of drugs inside the buildings, he says many organisations opt for burying them and the money from their business on the land to keep them even safer.

The authorities, during their investigations in the fight against drug trafficking, have also ascertained that some of the groups use these farm estates to produce drugs.

For example, they set up indoor marijuana plantations in the farm buildings, in places where there are no neighbours who might notice the strong smell or the sound of the equipment they use, which functions 24 hours a day, and report it to the police.