Statistics from the US State Department's annual drug control report challenge repeated warnings of a drug trafficking shift from Central America to the Caribbean, with seizure rates suggesting Central America is still the most common route.
The State Department's 2014 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) estimates that approximately 86 percent of the cocaine trafficked to the United States in the first half of 2013 first moved through the Mexico/Central America corridor, up from 80 percent in 2012.
Guatemalan authorities' reported total drug seizures during the first nine months of 2013 amounted to a 330 percent increase over 2012. El Salvador seized 664 kg of cocaine through the first 10 months of 2013, or double what was seized in the same period in 2012. Costa Rica seized 19.67 tons of cocaine in 2013, an increase from 14.73 tons in 2012. Panama also saw a 20.6 percent increase in cocaine seizures, from 34 tons in 2012 to 41 tons in 2013.
Several other Central American countries, however, saw decreases in seizures. Honduras -- where it was estimated in 2012 that 75 percent of all cocaine smuggling flights departing South America first landed -- seized 1.7 tons of cocaine in 2013, compared to 2.25 tons seized in one operation lasting from mid-April to early July in 2012 alone. Nicaragua also saw seizures plummet, from 9.3 tons in 2012 to three tons as of September 2013.
In the Caribbean, cocaine seizures did increase significantly in the Bahamas, Eastern Caribbean, and Dutch Caribbean, while remaining stable in the Dominican Republic. However, the quantities seized remain far below those seen in Central America.
InSight Crime Analysis
Drug interdiction figures alone are not a reliable barometer for tracking drug routes, as there are numerous other factors that affect seizure rates, such as changes in anti-narcotics budgets, interdiction equipment used, cooperation with international partners, and even the ebb and flow of corrupt contacts. Nevertheless, when viewed as a region, the State Department's figures offer strong evidence that drug traffickers continue to prefer the Central America/Mexico route.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of the Caribbean
For nearly two years, the United States has been warning of a shift to Caribbean routes as drug traffickers seek to avoid the attentions of security forces in Central America and Mexico -- reversing the pattern first seen in the 1980s when traffickers abandoned Caribbean routes in favor of Mexico and later Central America. Yet while there have been indications to suggest a rise in Caribbean trafficking in that time, as this latest reports highlights, there are few signs of a large scale abandonment of Central America. In fact, if the State Departments 86 percent estimate is accurate, trafficking through the region may even be increasing.