Full Frame features photo essays and conversations with photographers in the field.

West Africa, a region that has barely begun to heal from a decade of civil wars, is once again under attack. The new threat grows silently, like a cancer, and the international community appears powerless to respond.

An international network led by Latin American drug cartels and the Lebanese Islamist group Hezbollah has chosen West Africa, among the poorest and most corrupted corners of the world, as the nexus for illegal trade in cocaine, oil, counterfeit medicines, pirated music and human trafficking. International law enforcement officials say the profits fuel terrorist activities worldwide.

The past three years have seen a staggering increase in drug trafficking in particular, making West Africa — and especially the countries of Guinea-Bissau, Nigeria, Ghana and Guinea — the premier narcotics region of Africa. The consequences are most visible in Guinea-Bissau, which saw the double assassination of its president and army chief on the same day in early March and more recently the murder of two leading politicians in the struggle for succession.

The consequences stretch as well to the slums of Guinea-Bissau, where crack-fueled prostitution is driving a new AIDS epidemic in a region where even basic health care is beyond the reach of many — and where young people turning to the drug trade become the unwitting soldiers of organized crime.

What’s happening in Guinea-Bissau, Africa’s first narcostate, is a red flag of warning for the region — and for the world.

About the photographer:

Marco Vernaschi began his long-term project of documenting the illegal activities behind terrorism with his project on cocaine trafficking: "West Africa’s New Achilles' Heel." His overall goal is to show how unaware consumers in the West support international terrorism.

This work documents the effects of cocaine trafficking in West Africa, showing how criminal networks led by Hezbollah and Al Qaeda destroyed a whole country in just a few years.
During this coverage, Marco spent a considerable amount of time with an African organization of drug traffickers affiliated with Islamist terrorists, documenting their criminal activities, the assassination of the president of Guinea-Bissau and the devastating social effects, including crack addiction and prostitution.

Marco has worked on several other stories in Indonesia, Bolivia, Madagascar, Argentina, India, Nepal, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Belize. His work is published internationally by major magazines such as Newsweek, National Geographic, GEO and The Sunday Times Magazine. He’s currently working on his first book, "NARCO."

(Marco Vernaschi reported from Guinea-Bissau on a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.)

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