From April to June 2021, the Panamanian National Border Service (SENAFRONT, in Spanish) carried out the two largest drug seizures in its history, with almost 5,000 kilograms of drugs seized (marijuana and cocaine), Commissioner Oriel Ortega Benítez, SENAFRONT general director, told Diálogo.
SENAFRONT’s Special Boat Unit (UBE, in Spanish) carried out both operations in the Pacific, in the Punta Burica area, Chiriquí province, and in the vicinity of the Guna Yala indigenous territory, on the Caribbean coast, thanks to information provided by the Panamanian Regional Center for Aeronaval Operations (CROAN, in Spanish).
“As part of the institutional modernization strategy […], gains were made in equipment, means, technologies, and protective equipment to safeguard our units on the high seas,” Commissioner Ortega said, explaining the recent UBE achievements. “We feel […] that our units have the best equipment to do quality work against narcoterrorist organizations.”
On June 20, after receiving a CROAN alert, UBE service members located and intercepted a speedboat 113 miles off Punta Burica, near Costa Rica. The units found several bags containing 2,341 kg of marijuana on the vessel.
Authorities captured the vessel’s crew — three Nicaraguan men — and turned them over to the competent authorities. According to the SENAFRONT director, the drug’s final destination was Central America, and the seizure was the second largest that the institution has carried out since its creation.
SENAFRONT conducted its largest seizure only months before, on April 15, when UBE units launched an operation with CROAN intelligence, resulting in the seizure of 2,608 kg of cocaine that they found in a speedboat.
Commissioner Ortega explained that a vessel coming from Colombia had entered Panamanian territorial waters trying to reach Central America. Authorities intercepted the speedboat and its crew of five Colombians 30 miles off Ustupu Island, Guna Yala.
In addition to the amount of drugs seized, Commissioner Ortega said that, “during this operation, we introduced air and naval means, which makes this seizure the largest operation recorded in our institution.”
According to SENAFRONT, from January 1 to July 12, 2021, the institution seized 9,055 kg of drugs, three times more than it seized in all of 2020. So far this year, Panamanian security institutions have seized a record amount of 65,560 kg of drugs.