Norman's Cay is a small Bahamian island (a few hundred acres) 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 to around 1982.
Drug smuggling history
When Lehder arrived in Norman's Cay in 1978, he started purchasing large pieces of property, including a home for himself, a hotel, and an airstrip. Lehder then began pushing the native population and vacationers off of Norman's Cay and rapidly gained full control of the island. Following Lehder's arrival, air traffic over the small island began to increase and armed guards began patrolling the beaches. In July 1980, a yacht belonging to a retired couple was found drifting off Norman's Cay; blood stains were found when the boat was searched, and a corpse was recovered.
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 digestion or in their luggage, onto commercial airlines, was surpassed by the use of small aircraft shipping entire loads of cocaine.
Lehder eventually constructed a 3,300-foot (1,000 m) long runway 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.
With the Bahamian authorities looking the other way and all the local inhabitants scared off or forcibly removed, the island became a haven of debauchery for Lehder and his associates. Carlos Toro remembers, "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."
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, the Bahamian government began 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 was confiscated. It is now a tourist destination reachable by charter flight.
The island was again a subject of (minor) controversy when the newly elected Progressive Liberal government honoured 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.
The island's consortium of local and foreign owners including Bahamians Mark Holowesko, Martin Solomon, Greg Cleare and James Cole, and US investor J. Steven Manolis and Jonathan Breene had planned to include resort chain Aman Resorts. The island has purportedly sold to the Miami-based Fort Capital Group.
- "Norman's Cay: Playground for Drug Smugglers". PBS.
- "Pilots' Guide". Bahamas and Caribbean Guide.
- PBS Interview with Carlos Toro http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/drugs/interviews/toro.html
- "Norman's Cay Exumas Bahamas "Sweet Deal"". Bahamas News Board. Archived from the original on 2009-10-25.
- Kirkpatrick, Stanley, D. and Abrahams, Peter. Turning the Tide: One Man Against the Medellin Cartel. ISBN 0525249982.