International cooperation has been a major factor in Panama’s surge in narcotics seizures, Public Safety Minister José Raúl Mulino said.
PANAMA CITY, Panama – International cooperation has been a major factor in Panama’s surge in narcotics seizures, Public Safety Minister José Raúl Mulino said.
“Thanks to cooperation from the United States and Colombia, Panama has gained international recognition for the huge quantities of drugs seized,” Mulino said during a hearing before the Panamanian Congress.
In 2010, Panama seized 90 tons of narcotics, Mulino said, up from 59 tons in 2009. And the amount could be even higher this year, as the country’s security forces have seized 35 tons of narcotics through March 31. The narcotics had a street value of about US$543 million, according to Panama’s National System of Criminal Statistics (SIEC).
“We expect to invest US$300 million for the purchase of air drones that will detect narco-trafficking routes and guerrilla groups who operate along the border between Panama and Colombia,” Mulino said.
In April, Panama’s National Border Service (SENAFRON) raided two camps allegedly occupied by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) on the islands of Isaías and Embarcadero, in the eastern province of Darién, on the Colombian border.
Congress also approved US$13.6 million to purchase weapons and a helicopter to support the fight against narcotics trafficking and terrorist groups.
Meantime, the Panamanian police continue to crack down on networks used to traffic narcotics, highlighted by a June 18 operation that dismantled a ring specializing in narco-trafficking and prostitution in Panama City.
During the raid, police apprehended 35 suspects on narcotics-trafficking charges and 52 in connection with running the prostitution ring. Law enforcement agents also seized an array of narcotics, including ecstasy, marijuana, cocaine, LSD and “crispy,” a new type of marijuana-based synthetic drug. The amount of seized narcotics was not made public.
But Panama must continue to strengthen its ties with other countries if it’s to continue its success in the fight against narcotics, said Ezequiel Vargas, president of local security NGO Fundación Seguridad Ciudadana Pro Orden y Disciplina Nacional (Foundation of Citizen Security pro National Order and Discipline).
“Panama must sign international treaties with other countries in the area to avoid the entry of drugs into its territory,” Vargas said. “We need to strengthen and educate security personnel at the airport on narco-trafficking issues and create special security groups to tend to those types of cases.”
The government also is seeking to enhance overall security and narcotics-detection technology at the country’s Tocumen International Airport, one of the busiest in Latin America, with 250 daily flights that served about five million passengers in 2010, said Juan Carlos Pino, the airport’s general manager.
The security investments are part of a US$95 million airport expansion project that’s expected to be completed in August, said Pino, who added airport officials are studying the feasibility of an additional US$300 million upgrade.
The airport’s security officials purchased state-of-the-art X-ray machines that are able to detect narcotics and explosives.
“The airport has a lot of foreign traffic because it is a hub, and we need more modern [security] equipment,” said Rogelio Lombardo, the airport’s security chief. “The equipment we have now only allows us to detect explosives.”
The government also plans to buy several portable X-ray machines for the airport, Lombardo added. “These types of equipment can determine whether passengers’ bags have been in contact with drugs and explosives,” he said.