Cuban police seized 3,023 kilos of narcotics last year, 70 percent of which was marijuana, according to a report by Granma, the Communist Party newspaper. The government potrays itself as maintaining a tough stance towards its domestic drug trade, but thanks to geography Cuba remains a key transition country for international drug shipments.
According to Granma, in 2010 police sighted 38 go-fast boats loaded with narcotics, while 22 people were detained for transporting drugs by air. The numbers are only a slight variation from those reported in 2009, when the government reportedly seized 3,186 kilograms of narcotics and sighted 34 suspect vessels.
Tellingly, about 73 percent of the narcotics seized in 2010 were found washed up on Cuba’s 5,746 kilometer coastline. International drug trafficking organizations are not known to have an established presence on the island, so one of the main sources for the domestic markets are these parcels of marijuana and cocaine, washed up on the beaches. The Cuban Border Guard, an estimated 5,000 man force, is responsible for patrolling the coastline, collecting and then burning these wash-ups.
Just 90 miles from Miami and counting nearly 4,195 smaller islands within its martime territory, Cuba is a natural stopover for smugglers, esepcially go-fast vessels from Jamaica who may travel through Cuba’s waters in efforts to avoid the U.S. Coast Guard. In 2009, officials reported securing a Jamaica aircraft carrying 465 kilograms of marijuana; last year officials also reported detaining at least one go-fast vessel traveling from Jamaica to the Bahamas. Jamaica is believed to frequently traffic marijuana through Cuban waters and airspace, and Cuban authorities have allegedly expressed frustration with the country’s lack of cooperation in combating the illicit trafficking.
As for Cuban complacency in drug-trafficking, little information is freely avaliable. Crime is almost never reported in state-backed media like Granma, so little is known about cases involving police or military misconduct in drug trafficking. The Cuban security forces responsible for drug interdictings include the Cuban Border Guard, the Navy, and Air Force, but are thought to be ill-equipped by the U.S. State Department, limiting their ability to carry out actual interdictions.
According to the U.S. State Department, Cuba has indicated that international drug trafficking organizations are beginning to show interest in co-opting the domestic drug market in Cuba, instead of just using the island as a transit country. Marijuana and cocaine are not freely avaliable in Cuba and are believed to fetch high prices, representing a very lucrative market that traffickers could potentially tap into. The growth of Cuba’s tourist industry could also feed an increase in the domestic drug trade.