|Sweet and Suspenseful Surprises|
Smuggling on Norman’s Cay
By Elizabeth A. Ginns - October 2003
In the 1970’s and 1980’s, the Colombian drug trade was based largely out of the island of Norman’s Cay, a major staging area for fast boats and planes delivering the South American “goods” to U.S. shores.
In January 1979, a Bahamian company controlled by Colombian Carlos Lehder purchased half of the 650-acre island (including its yacht club, airstrip, grocery and liquor store, and ten rental units) for $900,000. Lehder reportedly sank an additional $5 million into such things as lengthening the airstrip and dock. Allegedly, boaters and visitors who came to the area were chased away by gun-touting guards.
The DEA caught on and organized Operation Caribe to target Lehder. They raided the island and subsequently cut off Lehder’s cash flow by arresting his pilots and confiscating his shipments. In 1989 a 39-count indictment was handed down in the United States, naming Lehder and 13 others; at that time Lehder had not been on the island in more than six months. That same year he was convicted and sentenced to life without parole plus 135 years.
Today a half-submerged plane (see photo), said to be carrying cocaine for Lehder when it crashed east of the marina dock, plus bullet holes in the buildings on the southern end of the island are all that remain of Lehder’s lawless days.—E.G.
This article originally appeared in the September 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.