U.S. and Bahamian officials are battling drug traffickers in a 700-chain of islands as large as the state of California, reports the Associated Press. The two governments, along with the Turks and Caicos islands to the south, have collaborated since 1982 in an operation credited with driving many cocaine and marijuana smugglers toward the U.S.-Mexico border. The Caribbean has long been a paradise for smugglers who take advantage of the many islands, crowded waters, and weak law enforcement. The Drug Enforcement Administration has estimated that as much as 20 percent of the cocaine that reaches the U.S. moves through the Caribbean. “We’ve been successful here,” said Kevin Stanfill, top DEA agent in the Bahamas.
Despite hundreds of arrests and billions of U.S. dollars spent, cocaine continues to be “widely available throughout the nation,” DEA said in a 2006 drug threat assessment. There are some success stories; DEA points to the Bahamas as one of them. Since 2000, Operation Bahamas and Turks and Caicos has resulted in seizure of more than 25 tons of cocaine, nearly 82 tons of marijuana, and the arrests of 786 people. The operation costs the U.S. about $30 million a year.