Norman's Cay

Norman's Cay is a small Bahamian island (a few hundred hectares) in the Exumas, a chain of islands south and east of Nassau, that served as the headquarters for Carlos Lehder's drug smuggling operation from 1978 until around 1982.

Drug smuggling  The wreckage of a Curtiss C-46 Commando that crashed in shallow water at Norman's Cay in November 1980 (1999) The wreckage of a Curtiss C-46 Commando that crashed in shallow water at Norman's Cay during the 1980s (2006)

As part of the Medellín Cartel, Lehder used the island as a transshipment base for smuggling cocaine into the United States. Lehder, before with his partner George Jung and later through Norman's Cay, is often credited with revolutionizing drug smuggling. The typical method of transporting small shipments, often carried by human drug mules, either through ingestion or in their luggage, onto commercial airlines, was surpassed by the use of small aircraft shipping entire loads of cocaine.[1]

Lehder eventually extended the airstrip to a length of 1,000 metres (3,300 ft) for his fleet of aircraft. In order to protect the island, armed guards and attack dogs patrolled the beaches and runway, and radar was employed. Any pilot foolish enough to land there was quickly warned off by heavily armed guards. The island was a strategic point for Colombian drug flights to refuel and rest before proceeding to the United States.[1][2]

The island became a location for partying. Carlos Toro, a friend of Lehder's who worked as a representative for the Medellín Cartel, remembered that "Norman's Cay was a playground. I have a vivid picture of being picked up in a Land Rover with the top down and naked women driving to come and welcome me from my airplane... And there we partied. And it was a Sodom and Gomorrah... drugs, sex, no police... you made the rules... and it was fun."[3]

Marine biologist Richard E. Novak, the island's former dive master, fought back, waging a heroic but ultimately futile one-man war to liberate Norman's Cay. Not until 1982, under pressure from US law enforcement, and despite years of turning a blind eye, did the Bahamian government begin to crack down on the island's drug smuggling operations. In 1987, after Lehder was arrested in Colombia and extradited to stand trial in the U.S., his property in the Bahamas was confiscated. It is now a tourist destination reachable by charter flight.[citation needed]

Recent years

The island was again a subject of controversy when the newly elected Progressive Liberal government honored a pre-election in-principle agreement to sell the government-owned portion of the island, valued at $40.5 million, despite the objections of the local MP. The government believes it may encourage further foreign investment.[4]

The island's consortium of local and foreign owners, including Bahamians Mark Holowesko, Martin Solomon, Greg Cleare, James Cole, US investor J. Steven Manolis and Jonathan Breene, had planned to include a resort chain Aman Resorts.[citation needed] The island has purportedly been sold to the Miami-based Fort Capital Group.[5]

Fyre Festival

In 2017, Billy McFarland arranged to lease the island from its owners to hold the Fyre Festival, with the Cay's owners giving the strict condition that McFarland make no reference to Pablo Escobar's connection (via the Medellín Cartel).[6] Promotional footage for the festival was shot on Norman's Cay, and planning for the festival went ahead. In early 2017, the video was released on social media, which (erroneously) advertised the island as "once owned by Pablo Escobar". The owners immediately cancelled the arrangement, and on short notice, planning was relocated to Great Exuma.[7]

^ a b "Norman's Cay: Playground for Drug Smugglers". PBS. ^ "Pilots' Guide". Bahamas and Caribbean Guide. ^ PBS Interview with Carlos Toro ^ "Norman's Cay Exumas Bahamas "Sweet Deal"". Bahamas News Board. Archived from the original on 23 October 2009. ^ "Norman's Cay, Exumas, Bahamas by Fort Capital Management Investments in Miami, Florida". Archived from the original on 2 July 2015. Retrieved 15 July 2015. ^ Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened. Netflix. 2019. ^ Aswad, Jem; Trakin, Roy (18 January 2019). "Fyre Festival Documentaries: The 10 Most Outrageous Moments". Variety. Retrieved 1 February 2019.
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