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

The Fixer and El Salvador's Missed Opportunity

The Fixer and El Salvador's Missed Opportunity

In the photograph, they are both smiling. In the foreground, on the left hand side, a man in a short-sleeved buttoned white shirt, jeans and a metal watch, holds a bottle of water in his right hand. He laughs heartily. He is Herbert Saca. On the right...

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's prisons are a reflection of the multiple conflicts that have plagued the country for the last half-century. Paramilitaries, guerrillas and drug trafficking groups have vied for control of the jails where they can continue to manage their operations on the outside. Instead of corralling these forces...

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

Local police and justice officials are convinced that the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) has strengthened its presence along the East Coast of the United States. The alarm follows a recent spate of violence -- of the type not seen in a decade -- which included dismembered bodies and...

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

Throughout the continent, the debate on whether or not the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) gang is working with or for drug traffickers continues. In this investigation, journalist Carlos García tells the story of how a member of the MS13 entered the methamphetamine distribution business under the powerful auspices...

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

Special Agent David LeValley headed the criminal division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Washington office until last November 8. While in office, he witnessed the rise of the MS13, the Barrio 18 (18th Street) and other smaller gangs in the District of Columbia as well...

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

In San Pedro Sula's jailhouse, chaos reigns. The inmates, trapped in their collective misery, battle for control over every inch of their tight quarters. Farm animals and guard dogs roam free and feed off scraps, which can include a human heart. Every day is visitors' day, and...

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

In July 2011, members of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) attended a meeting organized in California by a criminal known as "Bad Boy." Among the invitees was José Juan Rodríguez Juárez, known as "Dreamer," who had gone to the meeting hoping to better understand what was beginning to...

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Following Guatemala's long and brutal civil war, members of the military were charged, faced trial and sentenced to jail time. Even some members of a powerful elite unit known as the Kaibil were put behind bars. Among these prisoners, none were more emblematic than Captain Byron Lima...

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador's prison system is the headquarters of the country's largest gangs. It is also where one of these gangs, the MS13, is fighting amongst itself for control of the organization.

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

José Adán Salazar Umaña is the only Salvadoran citizen currently on the US government's Kingpin List. But in his defense, Salazar Umaña claims is he is an honorable businessman who started his career by exchanging money along the borders between Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. He does...