String of Large Drug Seizures Suggests Growth in Caribbean Trafficking

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The US Coast Guard recently offloaded in Puerto Rico more than a metric ton of cocaine, the latest in a string of seizures that points to a potential growth in the Caribbean’s role as a drug transshipment hub.

The Coast Guard unloaded 1.1 metric tons of cocaine in Puerto Rico on June 2. The drugs, seized a week earlier off the island’s southern coast, are estimated to have a wholesale value of around $32 million.

According to a June 6 press release, three Dominican nationals were arrested as part of the operation. They will face US federal charges in a Puerto Rico court.

The incident is the latest in a series of large cocaine seizures in the Caribbean this year. In a single operation in February, the Coast Guard seized 4.2 metric tons of cocaine heading to Europe in international waters off the northern coast of Suriname — the largest bust in the Atlantic Ocean in nearly two decades.

Meanwhile, on June 4, the Jamaica Observer reported a small seizure of 75 kilograms of cocaine that were being shipped from Suriname and Guyana, indicating that the Caribbean is an important route for both large-scale and small-scale trafficking.

InSight Crime Analysis

The latest seizures serve as a reminder of the Caribbean’s important role as a drug transshipment hub, but also of the variety of routes and operations established in the area.

Central America and Mexico remain the main corridor for South American drugs heading to the US market, accounting for an estimated 76 percent of cocaine smuggled north, according to the US Drug Enforcement Administration’s 2016 National Drug Threat Assessment report. However, almost all of the remainder travels to the United States through the Caribbean, the report states.

SEE ALSO: Caribbean News and Profile

US authorities have in the past argued that evidence points to growing trafficking activities through the Caribbean. In fact, the DEA has said that the region saw a three-fold increase in drug smuggling between 2009 and 2014.

Indeed, the Caribbean’s transshipment role has grown increasingly visible in recent years. The region remains one of the two main transit points for cocaine crossing the Atlantic to feed European consumption markets. This flow has most likely been fueled by the boom in Colombia’s cocaine production, while the deep crisis shaking neighboring Venezuela — from where many Caribbean shipments are launched — also facilitates trafficking activities.

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