Drug trafficking flight routes

Aerial surveys by the US Military’s Southern Command show that drug traffickers are shifting back to Caribbean sea routes in response to pressure on trafficking corridors running through the Central American isthmus.

Drug networks have also adopted new tactics to evade detection, officials at the Joint Interagency Task Force (JIATF-S) told the Guatemalan news organization Siglo21. Traffickers now slow their go-fast boats, whose high speeds once made them easy to spot, to the pace of normal fishing boats and sometimes conceal them amid a fleet of up to 20 other vessels.

According to Siglo21, the US State Department says the number of maritime trafficking events occurring on the Caribbean side of the Central American isthmus numbered 541 in 2011, compared to the Pacific Ocean’s 405 trafficking-related incidents, highlighting the Caribbean’s renewed importance to drug traffickers.

Furthermore, officials have observed a marked shift in drug flights. In 2009, many flew directly from South America to Honduras. In the last two years, however, flights have increasingly gone via Caribbean islands (see image above), with shipments later sent to the isthmus.

InSight Crime Analysis

Leaders from Caribbean states warned the US in 2010 that drug traffickers were increasingly turning to the Caribbean as a route -- one favored during the 1980s when some 80 percent of US-bound cocaine moved through the region -- due to pressure on overland routes through Central America. The pressure has increased this year through Operation Martillo, a US-led counternarcotics strategy in Central America that began in January.

The operation's first phase focused on stemming sea trafficking routes in the Honduran Gulf, and has since shifted to the southwest of Guatemala where some 170 US marines were recently deployed. In June, the agency reported to the US House Committee on Homeland Security that cocaine flow in most parts of Central America had decreased. Despite this success, there was a noticeable a spike in boats leaving from Colombia’s Pacific coast, constituting a 55 percent rise in cocaine trafficking in the area, according to the report.

The new maritime routes have not yet supplanted overland trafficking, DEA administrator Michele Leonhart said in a statement (see pdf here) before the US House of Representatives subcommittee on crime, terrorism, and homeland security in June. With pressure set to continue on trafficking corridors in Central America, though, it is likely the Caribbean will be increasingly utilized for drug shipments.

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Jorge 40'

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Jorge 40'

Rodrigo Tovar Pupo never imagined it would come to this: dressed in an orange jumpsuit in a Washington DC courtroom and standing in front of a United States federal judge, the grandson of a wealthy Colombian cattle rancher and nephew to a governor was facing a possible...

The FARC and the Drug Trade: Siamese Twins?

The FARC and the Drug Trade: Siamese Twins?

The FARC have always had a love-hate relationship with drugs. They love the money it brings, funds which have allowed them to survive and even threaten to topple the state at the end of the 1990s. They hate the corruption and stigma narcotics have also brought to...

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: Juan Ramón Matta Ballesteros

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: Juan Ramón Matta Ballesteros

On the morning of April 5, 1988, Juan Ramón Matta Ballesteros left his palatial Tegucigalpa estate for a jog. Matta Ballesteros was wanted for murder, drug trafficking and other crimes in several countries, but in Honduras he felt safe. He regularly hosted parties for high-level officials at...

Elites and Organized Crime: Preface

Elites and Organized Crime: Preface

Organized crime is not an abstract concept for me. I grew up in Oak Park, a leafy suburb of Chicago with a population of about 60,000. In general, it was a very low crime city, which is perhaps why many mobsters made their homes there, among them...

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: The Cachiros

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: The Cachiros

As it tends to happen in Honduras, the news began as a well-heeled rumor: Javier Rivera Maradiaga, the oldest of the three Rivera Maradiaga brothers still alive and leader of the feared and powerful Honduran drug trafficking group known as the Cachiros, had handed himself in to...

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Guatemala is Central America’s most populous country and its largest economy. But an intransigent elite, an ambitious military and a weak state has opened the way for organized crime to flourish, especially since the return of democracy.

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Don Berna'

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Don Berna'

By the end of 1993, Pablo Escobar was cornered. The cocaine king -- known as "El Patrón" -- was running out of money and options. His top assassins were either dead or had turned themselves in. Almost all of the senior members of the Medellín Cartel were...

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The 'Huistas'

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The 'Huistas'

In the northwest corner of Guatemala, a little known criminal organization known as the "Huistas" dominates the underworld, in large part due its ties with businessmen, law enforcement officials and politicians.

Elites and Organized Crime: Conceptual Framework - Organized Crime

Elites and Organized Crime: Conceptual Framework - Organized Crime

This project defines organized crime as: a structured group of people that associate on a regular and prolonged basis to benefit from illicit activities and illegal markets. This group can be local, national or transnational in nature, and its existence is maintained using violence and threats; corruption...

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The CICIG

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The CICIG

Like any arm of the justice system, the United Nations-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala - CICIG) had its battles with elites who used their charm and their muscle to try to influence what and who the celebrated commission...