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Arrest of Manuel Charlín, 85, reveals resilience of Galicia’s cocaine clans

Arrest of Manuel Charlín, 85, reveals resilience of Galicia’s cocaine clans

When police intercepted a ship off the Azores carrying a shipment of 2.4 tonnes of cocaine bound for Galicia in north-west Spain last week, they were surprised when the trail led them to the legendary drug trafficker Manuel Charlín Gama.

The 85-year-old head of the “Charlines” clan, whom everyone assumed had retired, and his son Melchor were among 28 people arrested in raids after the drugs were seized.

Charlín will be a familiar figure to fans of the Netflix series Cocaine Coast, in which he is played by the actor Antonio Durán. The series, titled Fariña (slang for cocaine) in Spanish, is based on the book of the same name by the investigative journalist Nacho Carretero.

“It’s surprising that the ‘old man’, as he’s known, is still in action but it’s not surprising that the Charlines are,” Carretero told the Guardian.

In Fariña, Carretero recounts how the tight-knit clans based in the Rías Baixas turned the fishing ports in southern Galicia into one of Europe’s principal gateways for Colombian cocaine.

The rías, a series of long estuarine inlets in Galicia, have a long tradition of smuggling, but the practice soared during the first 15 years after the end of the Spanish civil war in 1939, a period known as “the hungry years”, when nearly everything was in short supply.