The Panamanian National Air and Naval Service (SENAN) and the Colombian Navy seized 6.1 tons of cocaine hydrochloride in the Caribbean Sea during two operations, the Colombian Navy said May 2.
The first operation, which brought together the combined naval and surface capabilities of the Colombian Navy and Panama’s SENAN, successfully interdicted a speedboat carrying illicit substances north of Isla Grande in Colón Province, Panama, the Colombian Navy reported.
During the pursuit, the four Colombian crew members threw their cargo into the sea. Panamanian authorities recovered 3,152 packages totaling 3.5 tons of cocaine.
In the second seizure, thanks to intelligence from the Colombian Navy, Panamanian authorities carried out maritime surveillance and control in the waters of the Province of Colón, north of Playa Chiquita, reported Colombian newspaper El Universal. In the operation, SENAN officers intercepted a boat carrying 2,593 kilograms of cocaine and 77.9 kg of cocaine base paste.
The Colombian Navy highlighted the transnational collaboration to curb narcotrafficking. “We reaffirm our commitment to the development of multinational operations to deny the use of maritime space for the trafficking of illicit drugs,” said Colombian Navy Captain Ibis Manuel Luna, commander of the 73rd Counternarcotics Task Force Neptune, the institution reported.
In early May, SENAN said via Twitter that so far in 2022, it had carried out 47 successful anti-drug operations, seizing more than 39,800 packages of illicit substances.
Colombia’s Defense Minister Diego Molano and Panama’s Public Security Minister Juan Manuel Pino held a bilateral meeting in late April to reaffirm the commitment and collaboration of both countries in the fight against transnational crime, the Colombian Military Forces’ General Command said on its website. The meeting was part of the Annual Binational Security and Defense Operational Plan signed in July 2021. The Plan serves as the main tool to develop strategies and joint operations to combat organized crime on the common border, including narcotrafficking.
“The Binational Border Commission COMBIFRON and the ongoing meetings between our military and police commanders on the border make this shared region a safe zone for citizens,” Minister Pino said.
“Panama is a world trade central point, and therefore also becomes a point of interest for illicit activities [such as] smuggling and narcotrafficking,” Guillermo Holzmann, a defense analyst and academic at the University of Valparaíso’s School of Economic and Administrative Sciences in Chile, told Diálogo. “While it is true that the Panama Canal has capabilities to combat these activities, it cannot completely neutralize by itself the methodologies and techniques of criminal gangs to use it as a [narcotrafficking] route.”
Panama’s location connecting Central and South America has made the country a key transit point for illicit activities, says Insight Crime, an organization dedicated to the study of organized crime in Latin America. “The port of Colón […] has become a launching point for cocaine on its way to Europe and African countries that also feed European cocaine markets,” the organization added.