Operation UNIFIED RESOLVE seizes US$20 million worth of cocaine

By Dialogo
May 20, 2014

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic – The U.S. Coast Guard seized US$20 million worth of cocaine off a vessel southwest of the Dominican Republic, adding another bust to a successful string in the Caribbean Sea by U.S. and international agencies recently.
The April 21 seizure of 602 kilograms of cocaine occurred after a U.S. Coast Guard aircrew spotted a go-fast vessel traveling toward the Dominican coast carrying suspicious cargo.
In response, an armed helicopter and boat crew were launched from the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Spencer to intercept the vessel. When they arrived, agents discovered 25 packages on board, all of which later tested positive as cocaine.
The bust was part of Operation UNIFIED RESOLVE, a counter-narcotics and migrant interdiction operation in the Caribbean region. It complements Operation CARIBBEAN GUARD, a coordinated effort between the U.S. Coast Guard, Department of Homeland Security, and other commonwealth and territorial law enforcement agencies to combat illicit maritime trafficking to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. Operation UNIFIED RESOLVE also is a part of Operation MARTILLO, a multinational effort to disrupt transnational criminal organizations by limiting their ability to use Central America as a transit zone.
The Coast Guard valued the shipment, which was offloaded on May 10 in Miami Beach in the U.S. state of Florida, at US$20 million. Two alleged narco-traffickers were arrested and turned over to officials in Miami, but their names were not released.
“This seizure highlights the hard work and dedication of our crews in stopping the illegal flow of drugs in the Caribbean and reducing the destabilizing effects that drugs have on society,” Cmdr. Anthony Williams, commanding officer of the Spencer, said in a prepared statement.
The April seizure was followed by an early May bust of 1,280 kilograms of cocaine, valued at US$37 million, by U.S. authorities in the Caribbean south of Puerto Rico, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Two Dominican citizens, Santos Lantigua-Núñez and Efraín Cedano-Díaz, were arrested and charged with conspiracy to possess a controlled substance on board a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, the Justice Department said. The defendants are facing 10 years to life in prison if convicted.
“Our message continues to be the same: we will detect and interdict drug smugglers attempting to flood our island with their poisonous cargo,” said Vito Salvatore Guarino, special agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Caribbean Division.
U.S. agencies have teamed with international partners in the Caribbean to seize several large cocaine shipments in the past year amid an increase in drug smuggling from South America through the region as an alternative to the Central America-Mexico route.
During the 2013 calendar year, the Coast Guard Seventh District, which has bases in the southeastern U.S. and in the Caribbean, seized $1.8 billion worth of cocaine and US$22 million worth of marijuana, officials said.
The increase in illicit shipments through the Caribbean has put added pressure on governments in the region, which is being used as a transshipment point.
Officials in the Dominican Republic, the largest stopover point for cocaine in the Caribbean, said they have captured record amounts of cocaine in each of the past three years, including nearly 10 metric tons last year.
On May 12, officials from the Dominican Republic’s National Drug Control Office (DNCD) said they had seized 330 kilograms of cocaine from the port in Haina on the outskirts of the capital, Santo Domingo.
The shipment, which had been sent from Barranquilla, Colombia, was found in eight nylon sacks inside a shipping container, officials said. Working off intelligence they had gathered, DNCD officials said they inspected 70 containers before finding the shipment.
With Dominican territory being used as a major transshipment point for smuggling drugs to Europe, British Ambassador to the Dominican Republic Steven Fisher recently lauded the work of the DNCD against drug smuggling.
“Recently, we have had successful and constant seizures of drugs that were directed to London and other European nations due to close collaboration and sharing of intelligence between the DNCD and our British police. So, we are pleased with their work,” he said in a prepared statement.