Could Cuba’s Drug Position Change with US Detente?

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Cuba has reported minimal drug seizures in 2015, but as the Caribbean island and the United States re-establish relations, changing political and economic conditions may once again present opportunities for organized crime.

In 2015, the Cuban government intercepted 104 kilos of drugs in 46 separate seizures, reported the official government newspaper La Granma. Cocaine made up 70 percent of interdicted drugs, and marijuana 29 percent. This presents little change from 2014, when officials reported 49 seizures.  

In nearly half of the cases, Cuban authorities apprehended individuals carrying drugs concealed in suitcases or on their bodies and in ten cases, authorities caught “drug mules” who ingested drugs to get though controls. According to La Granma, the “majority of the offenders came from South America.” The numbers, combined with Cuba’s strict controls and drug laws, suggest that Cuba is a minor transshipment point for illegal narcotics.

InSight Crime Analysis

Drug consumption in Cuba is minimal due to strict enforcement and penalties for the possession of even small amounts of drugs. To put the levels of seizures in perspective, during 11 months of 2015, Honduran authorities seized 11,681 kilos of drugs, more than 100 times as much as Cuba.

However, as Cuba and the U.S. re-establish relations, could more political and economic openness on the island lead to a return to its status as a haven for organized crime, as was the case before Fidel Castro’s 1959 seizure of power. It is difficult to obtain any information about organized crime in Cuba beyond yearly interdiction reports; however the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reported that Colombian cartels have been increasing trafficking through the Caribbean to avoid stricter interdiction efforts in Mexico. Cuba is ideally situated for maritime trafficking with just 90 miles of ocean separating it from the U.S. mainland. It is also slowly opening up its economy to outside investment and US dollars are greatly prized.  All this might present opportunities for transnational organized crime, which will certainly be looking for openings.

      SEE ALSO: Coverage of the Caribbean 

Despite their differences, Cuba and the U.S. have worked together on drug interdiction efforts in the past, and although neither government has shared details on new cooperation efforts, collaboration and even aid from the U.S. could increase. The question remains whether working more closely together will neutralize any increase in trafficking efforts through Cuba. 

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