Central American Drug Seizures Up 30 Percent This Year, Say Officials

By Dialogo
September 04, 2013

SAN JOSÉ, Costa Rica — Thirty tons of drugs, 42 guns, 15 vessels, $170,000 in cash and eight tons of chemicals precursors used to manufacture cocaine were among the items Interpol’s Central American Bureau brought back from Operation Lionfish — one of the largest international drug operations ever conducted.
“The value of operations such as Lionfish is not just about the arrests and seizures,” said Michael O’Connell, Interpol’s director of operational support. “It is also about Interpol’s support to its member countries to strengthen nation and regional law-enforcement cooperation in our continued efforts to target organized crime networks behind the trafficking.”
The operation, conducted between May 27 and June 10, resulted in 142 arrests and was just one of several major mid-year drug busts for 2013. Seizures in the region are up 30 percent from 2012, according to a U.S. Navy report — a sign that Central America still remains an important transit point for drugs traveling both by land and by sea.
Joint agreements for ocean patrols have been especially effective in countering coastal drug transit, say analysts. In one such coordinated effort, a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol crew chased down a speedboat near the Panamanian-Colombian border.
“They realized what was happening and tried to flee into the jungle,” said Nonato López, director of Panamanian Naval Aviation. He said the crew called the Panamanian Coast Guard, which seized more than 6,000 pounds of cocaine worth about $445 million.
On Aug. 11, U.S. authorities seized more than a ton of cocaine from a small fishing boat off the coast of Costa Rica. The USS Rentz later turned over the cocaine and three suspects — two Costa Ricans and one Nicaraguan — to Costa Rican authorities.
“These disruptions are an example of the international cooperative law enforcement effort to disrupt transnational activity,” said Doug Garner, an official with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Elsewhere, Nicaragua had two notable cocaine busts within 11 days of each other in July, capturing 178 kilograms worth $4.5 million on July 9 and then another 460 kilos worth $11.5 million in a cooler of fruit destined for Belize.
Guatemalan police recovered 2,310 pounds of cocaine from a van on June 2, and Costa Rican authorities have confiscated more than 10 tons of cocaine this year on the Caribbean coast alone —more than the total for all of Costa Rica for all of 2012.
On Aug. 28, the Costa Rican Drug Control Police disbanded an international drug-smuggling ring that had been sending ecstasy and cocaine through the mail. The year-long operation ended in seven arrests and the seizure of more than 11,000 doses of ecstasy.
“They were exporting cocaine and importing ecstasy,” said Mario Zamora, Costa Rica’s minister of public security. “This tells me there is some diversification and innovation in the drug markets here.”
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