Caribbean Island Nations Step Up Drug Seizures

Caribbean authorities are intensifying confiscations of drugs, with especially notable successes in the Bahamas, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic — but also in smaller islands like Grenada.
Dave Carey | 9 July 2012

A cargo vessel is unloaded at Freeport Container Port on Grand Bahama Island. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Colombian traffickers use containerized cargo in order to sneak cocaine shipments past Bahamian security officials. Since 2007, those officials have seized at least three metric tons of cocaine at the Freeport transshipment terminal. [Larry Luxner]

Caribbean authorities are intensifying confiscations of drugs, with especially notable successes in the Bahamas, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic — but also in smaller islands like Grenada.

Officials there were thrilled with their huge narcotics bust six weeks ago. Grenadian authorities confiscated around 300 kilos of marijuana and cocaine in the Levera, St. Patrick region, valued at $1.5 million. No arrests were made, but officials are hoping the bust puts a dent in local shipment lines and will lead to even bigger wins against the cartels as they are working with a suspect in custody.

“This is our biggest drug bust ever,” the head of Grenada’s Police Community Relations Unit, Dunbar Belfon, told reporters.

Grenadian officials also are expecting two Interceptor patrol boats donated by the U.S. government to aid in the protection of their waters. The boats were commissioned late last month at the Coast Guard Base of the Royal Grenada Police Force, located in True Blue.

“It will help reduce our vulnerability to breaches in our maritime security, as well as support search and rescue missions, especially where our fishermen are concerned,” Prime Minister Tillman Thomas told reporters.

Dominicans score big drug seizures

Meanwhile, the Dominican Republic also has plenty of big busts to tout. Officials in Santo Domingo confiscated nearly a ton of cocaine late last month when they arrested three Colombians who were trying to smuggle the narcotics in a speedboat off the country’s southern coast. The seizure was the second largest of the year for local authorities, who also apprehended three Venezuelans and the 1.5 tons of cocaine they were trying to smuggle through a small town in March.

“This network of drug traffickers uses the services of Venezuelans, Colombians and the remnants of the Toño Leña band to bring narcotics to the country and then to the United States and Europe,” Gen. Rolando Rosado Mateo, chief of the National Drug Control Directorate (DNCD), told reporters. “These individuals were in charge of directing and coordinating the drug trafficking operations in the Dominican Republic.”

These successful busts are proof that 2011’s historic numbers of cocaine seizures weren’t a fluke. Last year, officials confiscated about 6,700 kilos of cocaine, a 48 percent increase from 2010, according to DNCD statistics.

Bahamas crackdown mirrors steep rise in trafficking

Authorities in the Bahamas are taking things a step further in their battle against the drug cartels. Officials in Nassau ordered the demolition of two “stash houses” where four pounds of marijuana were recently confiscated.

A joint operation involving the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the Royal Bahamas Police Force led to the discovery of 30 large marijuana fields with plots containing more than 50,000 marijuana plants ranging in height from one to 11 feet tall. The plants had an estimated street value of $40 million and were destroyed onsite by law enforcement officials.

We believe that the drugs were going to be used by drug peddlers in the area to sell to our little children and to our residents,” Bahamian Police Superintendent Stephen Dean told reporters, noting that ammunition was also found at the secluded site in Eastern Grand Bahama.

Drug confiscation patterns in the Bahamas and the rest of the Caribbean differ considerably from those of Central America, where cocaine seizures continue to rise. From 1985 to 1990, Bahamas officials seized an average 13,761 pounds of cocaine per year, according to Security Ministry figures. From 2005 to 2010, those seizures averaged only 5,250 pounds annually.

But when it comes to marijuana, it was completely opposite. Seizures have jumped from an average 48,857 pounds per year between 1985 and 1990 to nearly 60,000 pounds annually between 2005 and 2010.

“The market for cocaine has collapsed, and with it a significant decrease in the abuse of cocaine and crack,” said a report published by the Security Ministry this year. “Since 2000, marijuana has steadily become the narcotic drug of choice, as well as ‘club drugs’ such as ecstacy.”

Most cocaine entering the Bahamas comes concealed in containerized cargo transiting the Freeport Container Port on Grand Bahama Island, according to the 2012 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report issued by the U.S. State Department. The study says Colombian traffickers routinely utilize containerized cargo as a means of thwarting the efforts of Bahamian law-enforcement officials.

According to the report, roughly three metric tons of cocaine have been seized at the sprawling container terminal since 2007, though the amount confiscated from containers dropped in 2011.

To curb the continued influx of these drugs into the Bahamas, Security Minister Tommy Turnquest has presented a five-year plan “to mobilize the country as a whole for a comprehensive and effective national response to drug abuse and illicit trafficking, with particular focus on our young people,” he said. “Its primary focus is not on listing problems, but on crafting effective solutions to these problems.”

Jamaica: ‘No one is above the law’

Jamaica also has been proactive in its approach to dealing with narcotics. Officials recently helped the prosecution of crime lord Christopher “Dudus” Coke, who was sentenced last month to 23 years in prison for drug trafficking. Authorities are hailing this successful prosecution as a landmark victory and expect it to send ripples throughout the underworld.

“It sends an important signal to criminal kingpins, who think they can operate with impunity, and to the broader society that no one is above the law,” Jamaica's national security chief, Peter Bunting, told reporters.

The Area One Transnational Crime and Narcotic Division also posted a huge win in June when it arrested three people and seized 1,225 kilos of marijuana in Rose Hall. The confiscated drugs were estimated to be worth around $27 million. Police believe the narcotics were part of a drugs-for-guns trade.

“Law enforcement officials will also need legislative support in the effort to dismantle criminal gangs,” said Owing Ellington, Jamaica’s police commissioner.

Trinidad and Tobago is also doing its part in the fight. Last month, authorities in the twin-island republic sent a message to drug cartels by torching a secret marijuana field hidden on government property. Some 1,800 fully grown marijuana plants along with 1,500 seedlings and six pounds of cured marijuana — worth a combined $1 million — were burned.

“I will not be satisfied until the volume of criminal activity subsides to a level that is appreciated or accepted by the national community and this is why we have been looking at criminal activity from a holistic perspective,” said the country’s minister of national security, John Sandy. “We’re making some strides in that respect.”

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