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Panama, Determined in the Fight Against Narcotrafficking

Panama, Determined in the Fight Against Narcotrafficking

By Roberto López Dubois/Diálogo
May 20, 2021

Panamanian security forces continue to deal a heavy blow to narcotrafficking, delivering historic results. From March 15 to April 15, the Panamanian forces seized more than 5.5 tons of cocaine in several operations throughout the country.

On April 15, the Panamanian National Border Service (SENAFRONT, in Spanish) announced in a statement that agents of its Special Boats Unit intercepted a vessel coming from Colombia with 2,608 kilograms of cocaine on board, off the Caribbean coast of Panama, in the vicinity of Ustupu Island in the Guna Yala region. Authorities also arrested the crew, made up of five Colombian nationals.

SENAN units seized several drug packages containing more than 1.3 tons of cocaine in three operations carried out simultaneously in the Pacific coast of Panama, in mid-March 2021. (Photo: Panamanian National Air and Naval Service)

“During this operation, we assigned air and naval means, enabling this seizure to become the largest [cocaine seizure] operation recorded in our institution,” said Oriel Ortega Benítez, SENAFRONT general director.

Authorities coordinated the operation from Panama’s Regional Center for Aeronaval Operations (CROAN, in Spanish), under the command of the National Air and Naval Service (SENAN, in Spanish), and was carried out thanks to intelligence information provided by Colombian authorities, which indicated that a recently departed vessel was attempting to cross Panamanian territorial waters to reach Central America, SENAFRONT indicated.

SENAN carried out another notable operation in April. The institution said in an April 6 statement that its units, during patrols and control of illegal maritime traffic, intercepted a speedboat south of Punta Burica, Chiriquí province, in the Panamanian Pacific.

According to SENAN, upon noticing the police presence, the crew  — two Colombians and one Nicaraguan national —attempted in vain to flee using evasive maneuvers. Authorities found 800 kg of cocaine in the speedboat, and turned over the drug and the crew to the competent authorities.

In mid-March, SENAN achieved another remarkable feat against narcotrafficking in three operations carried out in less than 24 hours, which authorities also conducted from the CROAN and coordinated with intelligence from neighboring countries. According to a SENAN press release from March 17, the operations, carried out in the Pacific coast of Panama, resulted in the arrest of six people, the seizure of three speedboats and of 2,734 kg of drugs — 1,331 kg of cocaine and 1,403 kg of marijuana.

In an interview with Diálogo, Commissioner Edson Castillo, SENAN director of Operations, emphasized the importance of intelligence exchange among the countries of the region, as well as coordination, to achieve positive results in the fight against transnational crime.

“It is help that we cannot underestimate, because […] this is a struggle of all the countries that are part of the Americas if we want to reach a goal and have countries free of this scourge. We have to do it together; we cannot do it on our own,” Commissioner Castillo said.

According to data from the Panamanian Ministry of Public Security, as of April 15, authorities have seized 35.6 tons of drugs, of which 27.9 tons is cocaine and 6.9 is marijuana. On Twitter, the Ministry of Public Security said that in the first three months of 2021, authorities have seized 13 tons more of drugs compared to the same period in 2020.

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