Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • A man writhes on the deck of a ship as  the wind and rain thumps against his face.  

  • His bruised ankles are held tight by shacklesHe's eaten little over the last few weeks;  

  • his frame is slight and crooked; he's in constant  pain and ready to die. He lies there in the middle  

  • of the night, partly illuminated by the glare  of a full moon. He doesn't know when his family  

  • will see him again, if ever at all. They have  no idea what happened to their patriarch. Will  

  • he ever get off this boat, he wonders? Is this  even legal in the United States? After all,  

  • this isn't 1856, it's the 21st century, how is  it possible that a man can be chained to a deck  

  • like a mutinous traitor of yesteryearPerhaps the answer is because nobody,  

  • not his family or friends, not even some in  the US government, nor the American public,  

  • knows about his situation. How many of you viewers are now thinking,  

  • surely not, surely the US authorities  don't shackle men to the decks of ships  

  • and leave them exposed to the elements? Surely  prisoners can't be kept in such a way. No way  

  • would they feed so little to prisoners that they  would lose a good amount of their body weight

  • Well, we're sorry to burst your bubble, but yesit does happen. Most people are just unaware it  

  • does. It gets worse, too, but first let's finish  the story about the man we just talked about

  • His name is Jhonny Arcentales. He was a fisherman  in Ecuador back in 2014. That was a particularly  

  • bad year in the fishing business and so he was  wondering how to make ends meet. He remembered  

  • a man, a man with a proposal. For about two  years this guy had been telling Arcentales  

  • that there was good money in cocaine smugglingbut Arcentales had always turned down the offers

  • Those guys who go looking for local men to recruit  to smuggle are known asenganchadores.” They hook  

  • people up, and before they know it the fishermen  and others are working for Colombian cocaine  

  • traffickers and Mexican cartels. It's not an easy  offer to turn down, either. The small town where  

  • Arcentales lived was poor, very poor, but in the  early 2010s fishermen started disappearing for a  

  • while and later returning to buy new cars. They'd  done the cocaine trafficking trip, the round-tip,  

  • or what the locals callLa Vuelta.” Arcentales was broke. He had an unexpected  

  • newborn to feed and a wife to take care of. His  family of nine that slept on ripped mattresses and  

  • shared one bathroom were desperate. Even though  the most criminal act Arcentales had committed  

  • was stealing a candy bar, he went to find the man  who could turn him into a mule on the high seas

  • Not long after, he was told he'd be  teaming up with another Ecuadorian man  

  • and a Columbian man. Together they'd be takingshipment of Colombia's finest to Central America,  

  • which would then make its way to Mexico. From  there it would be transported to its promised  

  • land, where its most enthusiastic devotees would  be waiting with open arms and ravenous nostrils

  • It seemed like a good if not risky dealArcentales was paid $2,000 up front. If the job  

  • was completed, he'd return home and get $20,000  more. And that was all in the few days work.  

  • $22,000 was more than he'd earn from fishing  in four years. He was given a GPS tracker,  

  • told where to find the boat, and told that  on that boat there'd be 100 kgs of cocaine.  

  • Actually, when he got there, 100 kgs turned out  to be 440 kgs, which if you convert that into  

  • street level grams without cutting it would  be worth around 44 million bucks. Arcentales  

  • was suddenly a big fish in the sea, even if  they were many like him where he came from

  • The trip didn't exactly go as planned. As the  not-so crack team of smugglers were approaching  

  • Guatemala their boat was intercepted  by a United States Coast Guard Cutter

  • That was it. Game over. They were caught with  a mountain of blow. The men were arrested and  

  • subsequently chained to the deck of the shipBecause that ship had more work to do finding  

  • criminal vessels, they were sent aboard other  ships, each time being shackled to the deck,  

  • fed hardly any food, and being sunburned  and rain-blasted in the Pacific Ocean

  • Ok, so some of you might take a hardline  on drug traffickers, but the question you  

  • need to pose is don't most developed nations  have things called human rights? Being tied up  

  • on the deck of a ship sounds like something  Black Beard would do, or those unscrupulous  

  • European slave traders back in the day. Well, when you want to break International  

  • Law all you really have to do is find a loopholeLatin American nations have made agreements with  

  • the US and the US invokes the Maritime Drug Law  Enforcement Act. That means the authorities can  

  • do as they bloody well please. That's why the  ships have been calledfloating Guantánamos”. 

  • The Coast Guard are supposed to be the  good guys, but you can hardly blame them,  

  • they are just doing as they are told. They also  know that the prisoners have little to no rights.  

  • You see, when they are picked up they are not  formally arrested. As you know, if you ever  

  • are formally arrested you have rights, even if  you're an Ecuadorian fisherman. Since they are  

  • only detained and not really arrested, they have  no rights and can be kept chained up like dogs

  • One of those dogs, Mr. Arcentales, said he'd  told his wife he'd be back in five days.  

  • He didn't get back of course, and no one  told her where he was. After two months on  

  • the ship he envisioned death. He was hungry  and could barely ever sleep. His thoughts at  

  • times consisted of his wife and son throwing his  clothes on a fire and then attending his funeral

  • He was chained all the time, except when he was  allowed to go to the bathroom for a number two.  

  • A sailor would lead him to the convenience, which  was a plastic bucket. He'd then be taken back to  

  • where he was shackled with the other mensome 20  prisoners in all from various trafficking boats

  • As for the food, it mainly consisted  of small portions of rice and beans.  

  • Most of the men were malnourished and when they  stood up, they'd get dizzy. Matters were made  

  • worse when the rains came. Arcentales later  said the prisoners would often be soaking wet  

  • during the dark hours, just waiting for the  morning and the sun to rise and dry them

  • Another issue was they really didn't know where  they were going. They were never informed. One  

  • time Arcentales almost lost his mind, whereupon  the guy chained next to him, said, “Relax brother,  

  • everything is going to work out. They'll take  us to Ecuador, and we will see our families.” 

  • But more days passed; weeks passed, and  that fellow prisoner changed his tune.  

  • He too wondered if they'd ever get off the  ship, or worse, be thrown into the ocean

  • We'll come back to his plight soon. First you need to know some things.  

  • Getting South American blow to the US  has always been something of a problem,  

  • especially after Reagan's War on Drugs kicked  off. So, the traffickers have to change strategies  

  • every time the authorities get wise. It's  a seemingly never-ending, unchanging cycle,  

  • so long as Americans keep hoovering up that stuff  with a determinedness only matched by the British

  • Deviated septums and embarrassing text messages  aside, cocaine is still very popular. The  

  • traffickers just need to keep changing up the  game so they can deliver that devil's dandruff  

  • to their avid consumers. That's why in around  2011 Colombian traffickers started to look at  

  • fishermen in Ecuador. That's the first leg of the  journey, anyway, getting it out of South America

  • Almost 3,000 people over a few  years signed up for the job,  

  • and things were going well for a while, until  the US made some deals with 40 or so countries  

  • so coast guard ships could gain access to  boats they thought were carrying contraband.  

  • The US shouldn't really have this power, but as  the New York Times said, the country wielded,  

  • vast extraterritorial exertion  of American legal might.” 

  • In the past, the law stated that authorities  could only arrest or hold traffickers when  

  • they were in US territorial waters. Then in 1986  the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act was passed,  

  • and with the permission of certain countriesthe US could sail far and wide, sometimes  

  • thousands of miles, and pick up drug mules. In the 1980s and 90s not so many mules were  

  • detained and prosecuted in the US, perhaps  only about 200 of them in a year. Then in 2012,  

  • Operation Martillo came into effect, and the  Coast Guard was told to venture farther out  

  • into the ocean and stop the mules a long  way before they got anywhere near Mexico

  • After that, the number of people detained  on prison ships and later sent to the US for  

  • prosecution went through the roof. It was like  shooting ducks in a barrel given just how many  

  • cocaine shipments were sailing across the Pacific. The human rights issue comes into play because the  

  • captured men might spend many months chained  up on a deck. They won't ever get a lawyer,  

  • a phone call home, a nutritious  meal, or read their Miranda rights

  • Arcentales and the other twenty  prisoners were moved from ship to ship,  

  • with each day bringing a new pall of fear  and desperation. One of the prisoners later  

  • said that he told a nurse on the ship, “Just  shoot me and kill me, I would appreciate it,  

  • because I cannot take this anymore.” The men were becoming emaciated, while throughout  

  • the day they watched the Coast Guard sailors throw  out bags of food from unfinished meals. They even  

  • made a plan to ask to go to the bathroom and then  try and root through the garbage and rescue some  

  • leftovers. It worked, and later the men bit  a chunk of something and then passed it down  

  • the line of chained prisoners. Some men lost 20  pounds (9kg), and others lost 50 pounds (22.6 kg). 

  • Some of the sailors on the Coast Guard ships  didn't like what they were seeing, but without  

  • getting word from other agencies they had no  choice but to keep the men in the water. One guy  

  • said he worked on what he called a “boat prison”  adding that those vessels just weren't made to  

  • carry prisoners. They did the best they couldalthough you'd have thought the sailors might  

  • have remembered the starved prisoners when they  threw away a good piece of half-eaten chicken leg

  • 77 days after Arcentales set sail, his wife  was sure he was dead. But she got home that  

  • day and there was a phone call. It was her  husband, alive, but perhaps not so well.  

  • He said to her, “I am here. I am alive.” Before that, his ship had sailed to Panama.  

  • The prisoners thought they'd be going back homeuntil a DEA agent told them that their next stop  

  • was the United States. Some of the men were flown  to Florida, where they were finally formally  

  • arrested and read their rights. Arcentales was  told to give up names, but the trouble was,  

  • he didn't really know any of the people working  in the larger operation. He was of no use to the  

  • DEA. An enticing plea deal was off the cards. In court a judge said that it troubled her,  

  • hearing the stories of not being fed  properly, of being exposed to the elements,  

  • of the weight loss and the ad hoc bucket  bathroom. Still, she said, the trial must go on

  • When it ended she concluded, “They are just trying  to do it to make some money for their family”...  

  • and then she sentenced Arcentales to 10  years. In a jail cell at Fort Dix federal  

  • prison in New Jersey he now sits in the  daytime thinking about his wife, his kids,  

  • pining for his squalid shack in a fishing town  in Ecuador. At times during the night he dreams  

  • about rattling chains. In his own words, he  said, “I would wake up sweating; almost crying,  

  • thinking I was still chained. Over time it passesBut a thing like this, it never leaves you.” 

  • In his hometown word got around about what  had happened to him, the fact he was serving  

  • time in a cell in a foreign country. People  certainly feared taking the same risk as he had,  

  • but then the catastrophic 2016 earthquake  destroyed large swathes of the Ecuadorian coast.  

  • It left many families penniless and desperate. La  Vuelta became more attractive than ever before.  

  • Even a member of Arcentales' own family tried  it, and he too, was arrested by the Coast Guard.  

  • Still, out of work fishermen queued up  when the enganchadores came to town

  • The more we push our borders out, the safer  our homeland will be,” the US administration  

  • said recently about this matter. The government  seems intent on forging ahead with the War on  

  • Drugs industry that costs around $51 billion  a year, over a trillion since the 1970s. Wily  

  • traffickers still manage to get as much, if  not more cocaine into the US, while prisons are  

  • bursting at the seams and are home to more poor  Ecuadorians. The authorities want more resources,  

  • admitting that something like 75 percent of the  ocean-trafficked blow gets into the country,  

  • but the question is, if there is always steady  demand, will there always be a steady supply

  • Now you need to watch this, “Cocaine vs  Heroin - Which Drug is More Dangerous  

  • (Drug Addiction)?” Or, have a look at  this, “What Does Heroin Do To Your Body?”

A man writhes on the deck of a ship as  the wind and rain thumps against his face.  

Subtitles and vocabulary

Operation of videos Adjust the video here to display the subtitles

B1 chained coast guard cocaine coast deck guard

Secret Floating Prisons – Explained

  • 5 1
    林宜悉 posted on 2020/10/25
Video vocabulary