More must be done to arrest Caribbean drug trade says US

Nelson A. King 

WASHINGTON D.C., United States, Saturday March 16, 2013 – Though Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries have made significant efforts in addressing the burgeoning drug trade, the United States says more still needs to be done.

In its 2013 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, released here this week, the US Department of State lauded general efforts being made, but was very critical of what it regarded as inefficient measures implemented in some countries.

The US said that Jamaica remains the largest Caribbean supplier of marijuana to the United States, adding that while cocaine and synthetic drugs are not produced locally, the country is a transit point for drugs trafficked from South America to North America and other international markets.

It said that, in 2012, drug production and trafficking were both “enabled and accompanied by organized crime, domestic and international gang activity, and police and government corruption,” adding that the gun trade for illicit drugs “exacerbated the problem as handguns moved into the country in exchange for drugs”.

Washington said marijuana from Jamaica is “increasingly being trafficked to Caribbean nations as well” and that “some Central American drug trafficking organizations exchange Jamaican marijuana for cocaine”.

The State Department said while the Jamaica government and law enforcement authorities are committed to combating narcotics and illicit trafficking, their efforts were “only moderately effective in 2012 because of a lack of sufficient resources, corruption, and an inefficient criminal justice system”.

It noted that high-profile organized crime gangs continued to “successfully operate within Jamaica”  with gangs “sometimes afforded community tolerance or protection and, in some cases, support through police corruption”.

The State Department described Guyana as a transit country for cocaine destined for the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, Europe, and West Africa.

It said cocaine originating in Colombia is smuggled to Venezuela and onward to Guyana by sea or air and that smugglers also transit land borders with Brazil, Venezuela, and Suriname.

“The influence of narcotics trafficking is evident in the political and criminal justice systems,” it said, stating that the value of cocaine seized by Guyanese authorities in 2011, the last year for which statistics are available, totalled US$42 million.

The report said traffickers are attracted by Guyana’s “poorly monitored ports, remote airstrips, intricate river networks, porous land borders, and weak security sector capacity”.

The report noted that the government has passed legislation to enable a ?more-effective? response to the threat of drug trafficking, pointing out that The Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism Act of 2009, the Interception of Communications Bill, and the Criminal Procedure Bill were designed to enhance the investigative capabilities of law enforcement authorities and prosecutors to convict drug traffickers.

“To date, however, the government has sought no prosecutions under these laws.”

The report said Suriname is a transit zone for South American cocaine en route to Europe, Africa and, to a lesser extent, the United States and that the Dutch-speaking Caribbean country’s sparsely populated coastal region and isolated jungle interior, together with weak border controls and infrastructure, “make narcotics detection and interdiction efforts difficult”.

The State Department said while the Surinamese government is committed to combating illegal narcotics trafficking, as a matter of policy, “Suriname’s practical ability to apprehend and prosecute narcotics traffickers remains inhibited by drug-related corruption, bureaucratic hurdles, and inadequate legislation”.

Washington said Belize is a major trans-shipment country for cocaine and precursor chemicals used in the production of synthetic drugs, adding that, due to its position along the Central American isthmus, the country is “susceptible” to the trans-shipment of cocaine between drug producing countries in South America and the United States, as well as chemicals bound for processing into finished drugs in Mexico.

It estimated that more than 80 per cent of the primary flow of the cocaine trafficked to the United States first transited through the Central American corridor in 2012, with large stretches of remote, unpopulated jungles on Belize’s borders with Guatemala allow smuggling of cannabis and synthetic drugs.

“A relatively unpatrolled coastline, including hundreds of small islands and atolls, make maritime drug interdiction difficult,” said the report, stating that Belize is “bordered by countries where the drug trade is controlled by organized and violent drug cartels.

“Belize’s overall counter-narcotics efforts suffer deficiencies in intelligence gathering, analysis, and capacity of the judicial sector, in addition to corruption and inadequate political will.

“A lack of resources, weak law enforcement institutions, an ineffective judicial system, and inadequate compensation for civil service employees and public safety officials combined to provide a facilitating environment for illegal activities,” the report said, noting that “Belize lacks laws that specifically address narcotics-related corruption”.

The State Department said that Trinidad and Tobago’s location, porous borders, and direct transportation routes to Europe, West Africa, Canada, and the United States make it “an ideal location” for cocaine and marijuana trans-shipment.

It said while drug production and use in the twin-island republic centers on marijuana, other drugs, including cocaine, heroin, solvents, pharmaceuticals, and ecstasy, are also available.

The report noted that government in Port of Spain has “long struggled to effectively coordinate and adequately fund its counter-narcotics efforts” and that interdiction efforts are “robust and continuing”.

It noted however that overall seizures in 2012 were down from 2011.

The report said that Trinidad and Tobago’s drug control institutions continue to be challenged by deficiencies in staffing, organization, funding, and interagency communication.

“The entities and individuals working to combat narcotics in Trinidad and Tobago face considerable challenges and insufficient support from political leadership,. Additional reforms are necessary to expedite case prosecution, revise outdated laws, and establish an evidence-based criminal justice system as fundamental prerequisites for raising conviction rates and deterring traffickers,” the report added.

The State Department said the Bahamas is not a significant drug producing country but remains a transit point for illegal drugs bound for the United States and other international markets.

It said the Bahamas’ close proximity to the coast of Florida, as well as Caribbean drug trans-shipment routes, makes it a “natural conduit” for drug smuggling and that the country’s  700 islands and cays – the vast majority of which are uninhabited – provide “near ideal conditions for illicit smuggling”.

The State Department said smugglers “readily blend in among the armada of pleasure craft traveling throughout the Bahamas archipelago spanning 100,000-square nautical miles”.

Regarding the seven independent Eastern Caribbean countries of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the United States said they host “abundant trans-shipment points for illicit narcotics, primarily from Colombia and Venezuela destined for North American, European and domestic Caribbean markets.

It said traffickers are increasingly using yachts for drug transit, though “go-fast” boats, fishing trawlers, and freighters continue to serve as transit vessels.

The report said drug-related crime rates “remain elevated as more drugs remain in the region for local consumption, and organized gangs have formed to control drug distribution” and that marijuana remains a staple crop, primarily for local use.

The State Department said three years of declining macroeconomic growth has left Eastern Caribbean law enforcement capacity “further under-resourced than during previous reporting periods, a condition exacerbated by antiquated criminal codes and public perception of corruption in the ranks”.

It said the Eastern Caribbean struggles with communication and cooperation between states.

“The lack of regional or national law enforcement strategic plans, including comprehensive vetting programmes, creates a vulnerability to narcotics-related corruption,”  it said, adding that the Eastern Caribbean also continues to struggle with a lack of adequate infrastructure for counter-narcotics maritime patrols.

It said while each Eastern Caribbean police force has a mandate to interdict drugs and share information and intelligence with regional and international counterparts, law enforcement authorities “lack the capacity and resources to undertake systematic counter-narcotics operations”.

The report said that continued declining regional economic growth and increasing unemployment have led to increasing marijuana consumption and cultivation, according to host nation officials.

It said cannabis cultivation “predominates in the mountainous regions of St. Vincent, where production may rival Jamaica, according to unofficial US Drug Enforcement Administration estimates”.

The report said St. Kitts and Nevis officials claim locally-produced cannabis is “gaining a foothold on the market with exports predicted to rise,” and that Grenada also reports “an increase in marijuana and cocaine transiting from St. Vincent and Trinidad, respectively”.

The State Department urged the Eastern Caribbean countries to embrace the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI) and to fulfil their monetary commitments to sustain the Regional Security System (RSS).

“The United States further encourages the seven nations to pass legislation to modernize their criminal codes, making use of regional best practices in fighting transnational organized crime and lauds Dominica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, and Grenada in their progress in this area,” the report said.

The State Department said Haiti remains a transit point for cocaine from South America and marijuana from Jamaica for transshipment to the United States, Canada, Europe, and elsewhere in the Caribbean.

The report said Haiti is not a significant producer of illicit drugs for export, though cultivation of marijuana for local consumption occurs. (CMC) Click here to receive free news bulletins via email from Caribbean360. (View sample)