US’s Operation Martillo Seized Over $2Bn in Drugs

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Under counternarcotics effort Operation Martillo, the US military’s Southern Command has intercepted 53 percent more drug shipments than it did in the same period last year, including 105 tons of cocaine and 7 tons of marijuana.

Operation Martillo, a US-led multilateral operation to combat drug smuggling in Central America was launched in January 2012. The seizures in the first eight months of its operations mean an estimated loss of nearly $2.12 billion for drug trafficking networks, reported El Heraldo.

This year’s seizure of 105 tons of cocaine is on track to surpass the total of 119 tons seized by the US Southern Command in Central America in the whole of 2011.

As part of the operation, authorities have confiscated 40 boats used for drug trafficking and arrested 225 people, the majority of whom were Colombian, according to El Heraldo.

InSight Crime Analysis

Drug trafficking in Pacific and Atlantic waters around Central America has increased significantly in recent years, according to El Heraldo, with 946 incidents involving drug boats reported in 2011 compared to 333 in 2006. Before Operation Martillo began, SouthCom commander Douglas Fraser estimated that 80 percent of drugs coming to the United States were trafficked through sea routes near the Central American isthmus.

The operation’s strategy, implemented primarily by the Joint Interagency Task Force under the US military’s Southern Command, has been to intercept these boats before they land in Central American countries where the cargo is divided and sent by land up the Pan-American Highway to the United States. The operation employs four frigates to police illegal movements with a network of radars, and in August began receiving support from some 170 marines deployed to southwest Guatemala as part of operation’s second phase.

Cocaine flow has mostly decreased in the Central American isthmus as a result of the increased pressure on trafficking corridors through the region, SouthCom told the US Congress in June. This may have had the unintended consequence of causing an increase in cocaine trafficking through the Caribbean, however.

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