Puerto Rico Cocaine Seizure Points to Caribbean’s Revival as Drug Hub

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A multi-ton cocaine seizure by the U.S. Coast Guard. Photo courtesy Insight Crime

The seizure earlier last month of more than a metric ton of cocaine in Puerto Rico is the latest indication of what may be the Caribbean’s revival as a major drug trans-shipment hub in the Western hemisphere.

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.

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.

Editor’s Note: The Caribbean was a major source of cocaine trafficking during the 1980s, but efforts by the Drug Enforcement Administration to crack down on the trade fueled the rise of Mexico and Central America as alternative trans-shipment points. A resurgence of traffic was noted as early as 2013, when the DEA reported some 14 percent of cocaine shipments headed for the U.S. were identified as coming from the Caribbean region, particularly Puerto Rico and neighboring Dominican Republic.

Today, Central America and Mexico continue to be 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 DEA’s 2016 National Drug Threat Assessment report.

However, almost all of the remainder travels to the United States through the Caribbean, the report states.

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.

This story is a slightly edited version of a report published this week by InSight Crime, and is reproduced by The Crime Report under agreement.  Readers’ comments are welcome.

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