Guatemala Cocaine Seizures Stable, but US Worried

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Guatemalan cocaine seizures are on track to reach the same levels in 2013 as in 2012, but concerns remain over plans to nationalize Guatemala’s counter-narcotics efforts.

Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez Bonilla told elPeriodico that drug seizures had dropped in 2013 compared with the past two years, and attributed this to increased controls forcing drug traffickers to move smaller quantities at a time.

However, according to national police figures reported by elPeriodico, 2,236 kilos of cocaine were seized between January 1 and September 4 this year, compared to 3,292 kilos in 2012 — a proportionally almost equal haul when the difference in time periods is taken into consideration.

However, there has been a significant decrease in synthetic drug seizures in 2013 compared to 2012, with authorities recovering just five kilos of methamphetamines so far this year compared to more than two tons in 2012. The figures do not take into account the seizure of precursor chemicals, which rose signifcantly last year.

InSight Crime Analysis

Guatemala, along with the rest of Central America, is a major transshipment point for US-bound cocaine and a focus for US counter-narcotics operations in the region. Though the United States stopped military aid to Guatemala in 1990, it has continued to fund anti-drug efforts, and purchased helicopters for the country in 2007.

Plans are currently underway to transfer seven helicopters used for anti-drug surveillance — and until now maintained by the United States — into the hands of the Guatemalan government. Guatemala’s interior minister has declared the Guatemalan personnel that will fly the helicopters to be highly skilled, however US officials have in the past expressed concern to InSight Crime about handing the reins of anti-drug efforts over to the Guatemalan Air Force.

Though Guatemalan Defense Minister Ulises Anzueto claimed last year that helicopter patrols had significantly reduced drug flights through the country, he also admitted 70 percent of drugs moving through Guatemala were trafficked via the country’s coastline. This means the country will need to focus efforts on sea as well as air routes, something which could prove to be a budgetary strain.

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