Panama Commits To Fight Against Drug Trafficking

By Dialogo
July 29, 2010

Panamanian authorities have declared war on drug trafficking and organized

Officials carried out the largest narcotics seizure of the year earlier this
month when the National Naval Air Service of Panama (SENAN) captured a speed boat that crashed into a seafront house in the city
of Colón, on the Caribbean Sea.

SENAN officials found more than 2,400 kilos (5,280
pounds) of cocaine on the vessel. A Colombian national was arrested, but the other
three crew members on the boat managed to escape.

“It doesn’t seem coincidental to me that north of Veraguas [155 miles west of
Panama City] there are 15 people in custody for having links to drug trafficking,”
Minister of Public Safety José Raúl Mulino told reporters, according to EFE. “This shipment [contained] ski masks, knives and
military ammunition apparently for these people.”

Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli said the region needs a strategic
counter-narcotics policy, during a summit of the Central American Integration System
(SICA) earlier this month in El Salvador.

“Many people die unnecessarily due to drugs, the same drugs that prompt
corruption and discourage investment,” said Ricardo Martinelli, as reported by the
Panamanian daily La Prensa.

In 2009, Panamanian law enforcement agencies confiscated 52.1 tons of cocaine
and 1.7 tons of marijuana, according to the Public Ministry. Officials also said
US$11 million in cash was seized, US$3.2 million more than the previous year.

Javier Caraballo, the country’s drug prosecutor, said authorities have
identified Mexican criminal organizations in Panama that are working with
Mexico-based drug cartels. But he added the seizures by Panamanian officials have
decreased the illegal activities of national and international criminal

“We have seen cases in which almost all the people apprehended, linked to
these shipments, are Mexicans that don’t have a permanent residence in the country,”
said Caraballo, as reported by EFE. “However, they arrived
[in the country] to organize drug trafficking.”

An undercover agent from the Judicial Investigations Directorate (DIJ) of the National Police told that
criminals from Latin American countries are also in Panama to supervise their
illegal businesses. But local law enforcement agencies are trying to prevent them
from establishing a presence.

“Guatemalans, Hondurans and Colombians are coming [here] to control and
oversee their operations on Panamanian territory,” said the narcotics agent, who
only spoke on condition of anonymity because her life could be in jeopardy if her
identity were revealed. “Now it has become more difficult for them [drug
traffickers] to infiltrate ‘agents,’ but they continue to look for new strategies.”

The source said that drug seizures in 2009 reflect increased efforts by
counter-narcotic agencies and the naval air bases monitoring the Pacific and
Atlantic oceans.

“The new strategies and operational exercises and coordination with
international organizations make drug traffickers find new ways and routes to
traffic narcotics,” she said.