US authorities are set to invest millions of dollars to tackle drug and arms trafficking in Puerto Rico, according to the island's resident commissioner, highlighting the growing influence of organized crime on the Caribbean territory.
Pedro Pierluisi announced that the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plans to send reinforcements to boost stretched law enforcement agencies, namely the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Coast Guard, reported EFE. The objective of the plan is to boost both the number and the coverage of the organizations' operations.
Assistants to US Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano also said in Washington that the department is close to announcing new "concrete and substantial steps" to combat drug trafficking on the territory, El Nuevo Dia reported.
The announcement occurs nearly simultaneously with the naming of a new FBI director for Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, Carlos Cases, who has also announced plans to work with the authorities to combat corruption, drug trafficking and organized crime.
InSight Crime Analysis
The decision to reinforce counternarcotics operations in Puerto Rico is indicative of the island's growing importance for drug traffickers, and the fact that it is currently ill-prepared to deal with this threat.
In early 2012, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reported that Puerto Rico had become an important transit point for cocaine smugglers, who usually send shipments first to smaller islands and using Puerto Rico as a stopping point before reaching the US.
Since then, several measures have been taken to combat this rise. In September 2012, the DHS launched the Caribbean Guard Operation to combat the flow of illegal arms, drugs and money, while in January 2013, Puerto Rico’s governor announced that the US National Guard would be deployed along the island's coastline to combat drugs and arms trafficking.
Reinforcements for the agencies tasked with policing the island and its surrounds may begin to tackle what makes the island so attractive to traffickers: its easy access to the US mainland, generally with few inspections, and police corruption.