2016 Seizures Suggest CentAm Still Top Drug Corridor to US

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Panama and Guatemala have seen a sizeable increase in drug seizures through the first half of 2016, an indication of Central America’s persistent importance as a trafficking route to the United States despite past predictions of an impending shift towards the Caribbean.

According to Panama On, Panamanian authorities seized over 36 metric tons of drugs between January 1 and July 24 this year, or more than five tons per month on average.

Citing Panama’s criminal statistics agency (Sistema Nacional Integrado de Estadísticas Criminales – SIEC), Panama On reported 111 tons of drugs have been seized since 2014, when 17 tons were confiscated. Panama is on track to seize more than 62 tons of drugs during 2016. That is more than the 58 tons confiscated in 2015, which marked a 10-year record.

More than 120 anti-drug operations by Panamanian authorities in 2016 have also led to the seizure of nearly $4 million and the arrest of 500 individuals — the majority of whom were Panama citizens.

Further north, in Guatemala, a recent seizure of 1,448 kilograms of cocaine by the National Civil Police (Policía Nacional Civil – PNC) put total drug seizures from January 1 to July 24 at 7,326 kilos, reported elPeriódico. The figure exceeds Guatemala’s drug seizures of 6,175 kilos for all of 2015 by more than a metric ton.

InSight Crime Analysis

US officials have signaled in recent years that Caribbean trafficking routes may eventually overtake Central America in importance as a result of increased drug enforcement along the isthmus and in Mexico. But as InSight Crime has repeatedly noted, warnings of a shift in drug routes to the Caribbean have failed to materialize. Indeed, figures included in the US State Department’s 2016 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, released in March 2016, confirmed once again the continued dominance of Central American drug routes.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of the Caribbean

While heightened drug seizures can be explained by multiple factors — such as more effective or luckier drug enforcement operations — statistics from Panama and Guatemala during 2016 appear to provide further evidence that a major shift in trafficking routes to the United States is not underway.

Rather than rerouting drugs to the Caribbean, traffickers may be simply relocating operations within Central America to areas of least resistance. For instance, in Costa Rica — a country traditionally spared from drug trafficking but whose importance as a drug transit country has grown over the past few years — authorities have located dozens of illegal airstrips used by traffickers over the course of 2016, likely a result of limited radar capabilities.

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