Anti-drug stategists think Caribbean will see more trafficking

Regional anti-drug officials are trying to anticipate a shift in drug trafficking to the Caribbean.

Although there have been some smuggling crafts detected east of Costa Rica, the majority of cocaine moves from South America by sea and overland mainly along Pacific routes.

Currently, traffickers have much less of a presence in the Caribbean compared to other parts of the region, according to a recent U.S. Senate report, cited by the U.S. Southern Command. But in a region suffering economic instability, some nations lack modern equipment and capabilities to patrol the vast waters in their area, the military agency said.

The Southern Command and anti-drug forces of a number of countries are engaged in Operation Martillo, which is designed to disrupt networks and trafficking routes, the command noted. Consequently, U.S. officials said they expect that traffickers will make shifts in their activities to what they call more permissive environments.

The traditional Caribbean drug smuggling routes are far from the Costa Rican coastline, although a semi-submersible craft was stopped Dec. 4 about 40 miles off the Caribbean coast at Sixaola.

Anti-drug agents also have found stashes of cocaine on an island just offshore from Limón Centro and on beaches in extreme northeastern Costa Rica.

The amount still is small compared to the quantity of drugs moving via Pacific routes.

The Southern Command said that defense and security leaders from 15 nations, including the United States, met this month for an annual Caribbean region security conference, and the main topic of discussion was the strengthening of multinational security efforts so that traffickers can’t effectively shift operations to the Caribbean — a favorite corridor for the movement of drugs three decades ago.

At the conclusion of the conference, participating nations committed to the implementation of a Caribbean Counter Illicit

Trafficking Strategy and took steps in the development of a Caribbean maritime security initiative, said the Southern Command.

The effort involves the development of a joint, regional strategy to disrupt transnational organized crime networks that include the illicit trafficking of drugs, humans and weapons in the waters of the Caribbean, said the Southern command.

The U.S. Joint Interagency Task Force South is the organization responsible for overseeing U.S. detection and monitoring operations and interdiction of illicit trafficking in a 42 million-square-mile area with the support, cooperation and participation of international partners, officials noted. Part of this area is off the Costa Rican coasts.

Charles Michel said that a specific part of Operation Martillo is to sense changes in trafficking trends and then immediately shift assets into those areas “to never allow the traffickers to have the initiative again.” He is a U.S. Coast Guard rear admiral and director of the joint task force.

The United States has a program of providing patrol boats and other gear to countries, including Costa Rica, along the drug trafficking routes.

An example of the international efforts was the capture of the semi-submersible.

A U.S. patrol plane crew alerted Costa Rican and Panamanian law enforcement and set off an international collaboration that ended in the sinking of the semi-submersible drug ship and the death of its captain, said security officials at the time.

Three men on the craft were saved by the Costa Rican Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas, whose patrol boat, “Punta Burica 65-4” was first on the scene. Later a U.S. craft arrived as well as one from Panamá. Since the sinking happened in waters of Panamá, the three suspects and some 74 kilos of cocaine found floating near the scene were turned over to law enforcement in Panamá. Most of the cocaine sunk with the boat, officials said.

This was a typical operation when U.S. patrol planes of vessels locate the smugglers and drive them inshore into the hands of patrol crews of participating countries.

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