Panama’s Security Forces Intensify Anti-Drug Efforts

By Dialogo
November 11, 2011

As Colombian officials celebrate the death of Alfonso Cano, maximum leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), officials of Panama’s National Police continue winning small victories in the battle against drugs.
Cano’s killing at the hands of Colombian army troops came only a few days after a FARC jungle camp was destroyed by the Panamanian National Border Service (Senafront) in the remote community of Madugandí, in the province of Darién. Two alleged FARC members were arrested by Panamanian security forces, which are attempting to stop the flow of drugs coming in across the border from neighboring Colombia.

In early October, police officers pulled over a delivery truck loaded with narcotics and fruit. The vehicle contained 50 packages of cocaine hidden among boxes of plantains and cassava in the town of Yaviza. Two adults and a youth also were arrested in the car heading for the public market in Panama City.
But the fruit truck wasn’t the only big vehicle bust. A National Police cruiser spooked four suspects in a dark-colored Nissan Patrol SUV along the southern corridor of Don Bosco, causing the truck to make several reckless moves through traffic before getting stuck in a drainage ditch. The suspects fled on foot and remain at large but several large bags of marijuana were found, along with an AK-47 assault rifle and multiple rounds of live ammunition.
Horses are also part of the smugglers’ new arsenal. Instead of loading the animals with gold to be carried across the isthmus as Spanish conquistadors did more than five decades ago, drug dealers are now using packs of horses to smuggle narcotics through rural areas of Panama. The State Border Service has caught on, however, as it recently busted a Colombian rider and four horses carrying 14 sacks containing more than 340 kilograms of cocaine in Molilla, in Kuna Yala.
Also inside the saddlebags were 28 rounds for a 9mm pistol, two radios, two cellphones and four SIM cards for the phones.
“In one year, Panama catches well over 75 tons,” Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli recently told reporters. “And every ounce of cocaine we seize means less drugs and less crime in the streets of the United States.”
Something fishy about cargo
The Casco Viejo fish market in Panama City isn’t immune from the drug trade either. National Police received a tip that narcotics were being smuggled through the market and transported from vehicle to vehicle. An ensuing raid of the area uncovered 26 kilograms of cocaine wrapped in a small blue plastic container.
“We received a call at 1 o’clock in the morning saying that there was some suspicious activity taking place in the parking lot,” said Maj. Franklin Serrano of the Chorillo police station. “We were told that merchandise was being moved from one vehicle to another. The municipal police arrived there, and a blue container fell from one of the vehicles as it started being chased by the municipal police. That's where we found the drugs.”
In Panama, cocaine has a street value of about $3,000 per kilogram. Serrano told reporters: “We are also trying to figure out if the drugs were destined for the Panamanian domestic market. We suspect that there were a lot more drugs in that vehicle. The policemen who chased it said that it looked heavily loaded.”
But even drug dealers are wary of getting ripped off. National Police recovered more than $23,000 from a Panamanian gang that had reportedly stolen it from traffickers in early October. The cash was recovered from two houses as part of a coordinated effort in the San Augustín district of Los Santos.
That wasn't the only withdrawal from narco-traffickers’ bank accounts by Panamanian forces.
National Police apprehended an alleged smuggler near Colón who had presumably crossed the border illegally from his native Colombia. The runner was arrested with more than $450,000.
“Security in the country has been increasing and have reduced crime and theft,” Martinelli told reporters. “We must continue working until the crime is down to levels that are tangible for the population. We must work tirelessly to provide more security.”
Meanwhile, Panama’s Ministry of Public Security has completed a new Caribbean operations base in Puerto Obaldia, Kuna Yala. The base is a joint venture between the United States and Panama to prevent narcoterrorists from penetrating the region.
“It also has an important meaning because it is a boundary point with our sister Republic of Colombia,” said Public Security Minister José Raúl Mulino.