Caribbean Cocaine Trafficking Continues Rise: US Officials

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The proportion of drugs trafficked through the Caribbean has more than tripled in the space of five years, according to US officials, adding weight to the persistent warnings that traffickers are seeking new routes as a result of security forces pressure in Central America and Mexico. 

The head of the Caribbean division of the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Vito Salvatore Guarino, told Spain’s El Pais that in the last three to five years the amount of cocaine passing through the Caribbean en route to the United States has risen from 5 percent of the total to 16 percent of the total. According to Guarino, in absolute terms, he estimates traffickers currently ship 90-100 tons through the region, versus close to 70 tons in prior years.  

From October 2012 to October 2013, anti-narcotics forces seized 28 tons of drugs being moved through the region and arrested over 1,500 people on drug charges. This has continued to rise since then, with a 2 percent increase in the proportion of drugs moving through the region during the first trimester of the 2014 fiscal year.

The most commonly used routes depart from the port of Cartagena, before moving on to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, according to Guarino. Jamaica, already a major marijuana producer country, has also emerged as a major cocaine transhipment point. 

InSight Crime Analysis

In the three years since Caribbean leaders warned the US of an increase in drug trafficking through the region, it has become increasingly apparent that traffickers are looking to revive the Caribbean cocaine corridors popular in the 1980s, when 75 percent of drugs seized in transit to the United States were interdicted along these routes.  

At least part of the increased activity along the Caribbean routes is a result of the security forces crackdown in Mexico and Central America, which themselves became popular due to anti-narcotics operations in the Caribbean, highlighting how trafficking routes migrate to follow the path of least resistance.

The use of Caribbean ports and transit points has been underscored by recent seizures. In just the last two weeks, two record breaking shipments of liquid cocaine and cocaine were seized by Colombian authorities at the port of Cartagena, one a seven ton load destined for the Netherlands, the other a record 2.8 ton haul of liquefied cocaine, which was headed for Guatemala.

In addition, the US Coast Guard recently unloaded 3.3 tons of cocaine at a base in Miami Beach following two separate drug interdictions in the Caribbean, one of which took place just south of Jamaica, the other in the south west Caribbean sea.

However, despite the seizures and the warnings of regional officials, the DEA’s figures show how the Caribbean remains some distance from taking over as the principal route linking the Andean cocaine production countries to the United States. Authorities believe that about 350 tons of cocaine still moves through the Isthmus. 

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