Cocaine trafficking through the Caribbean en route to Europe and the United States has increased 800 percent in the past two years due, among other reasons, to the lack of technological resources in ports such as the Multimodal Caucedo Port and the Port of Haina, according to the conclusions of the seminar “Police Investigation of maritime cocaine trafficking, with special reference to container traffic.”
During this seminar, held from December 10 to 12 in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, it was pointed out that those two Dominican ports together move approximately four million containers a year headed for the European Union and the United States of America.
In a concluding document, the seminar noted that maritime cocaine trafficking is an extremely important modality of international trafficking in this narcotic.
Several experts have critized that the lack of control in the seaports of the Dominican Republic poses a major threat to the national security interests of United States as the country has emerged as the center of drug trafficking in the Caribbean.
The current system in place to control the shipments through the Dominican Republic is inadequate and as a result it has generated a lot of criticism from the U.S. Congress and the European countries.
With the same inspections system in place, the increase of violence and criminal activities will affect dramatically the tourism industry of the Dominican Republic and spread the image of the country as unfriendly toward international companies.
To effectively combat the organizations engaged in this criminal activity, full cooperation is needed between the police units that specialize in narcotics trafficking investigation and the Customs Services, the document adds.
The European Union COPOLAD Program (drug partnership cooperation program between the European Union and Latin America) organized the Seminar to establish an international forum for discussion of the issue, bringing together multidisciplinary opinions and experiences.
During the seminar, many aspects of the threat of global organized crime manifested through maritime cocaine trafficking were explored.
Marino Vinicio Castillo, advisor to the Executive Branch on drugs, said that large amounts of drugs continue to be moved out of Dominican ports, and called for strengthening of security and oversight measures.
Castillo said that, in spite of intervention by the National Drug Control Directorate and enhanced vigilance, the Haina and Caucedo Multimodal ports continue to experience drug trafficking problems.
Castillo stressed the need to include X-rays in Dominican ports to ensure more comprehensive oversight of the merchandise entering and leaving.
Fidias Aristy, President for the National Drug control Directorate, confirms the urgency to have X-ray technology to supervise the control of containers at the Dominican ports in an effort to combat the narcotics problem on the island. Mr. Aristy has been a strong advocate of this technology to help with the problem.
Criminal organizations prefer maritime trafficking
Fighting against drug trafficking is also essential to reduce the high level of crime and violence in the Dominican Republic. One of the latest cases that has attracted the attention of the country is the tragedy suffered by Francina Hungria Hernandez, shot in the face at the end of November, 2012, by unknown assailants.
The tragedy of the young Francina is one of the hundreds of crimes that occurred in the country during the year because of the increased influence of the illegal drugs and drug traffickers that supply all kind of drugs to the Dominican youth.
During the conference in Punta Cana, special attention was paid to the most important aspects of the structures of the criminal organizations engaged in cocaine trafficking, their modus operandi, sea routes, police investigation methodology, the importance of international cooperation in the fight against this illegal trafficking, recent initiatives being implemented by the EU Member States, comprehensive port security and analysis of the risk of pleasure craft, merchant vessels, and especially, container ships.
The criminal organizations try to smuggle most of the cocaine by sea transport routes, using various types of vessels, speedboats, fishing boats, sporting boats, semi-rigid inflatables and so forth. Thus it has been suggested that it would be advisable to increase international maritime cooperation in order to try to decrease illegal sea trafficking in cocaine, highlighting, in this respect, implementation of article 17 of the 1988 UN Convention.
It was noted during the seminar that an increase in the use of semi-submersibles and submersibles in the trafficking of cocaine chlorhydrate has been detected. These are equipped with cutting-edge technology, infrared cameras, quick closing electro valves, with capacity to transport between 3.5 and five tons of cocaine, and a navigation depth of 15 to 20 meters, making it even more difficult, if possible, to locate and seize the drugs.
The countries threatened by the sphere of activity of these types of vessels believe it is important to have legislation aimed at penalizing construction activity, logistical support, and crew, citing as an example the Colombian experience with the promulgation of Law 1311 of 2009.
It has been said that comprehensive port security results in prevention and control philosophies and systems that harmonize with the personality of the port’s activities, optimizing the security resources so that the preventive controls and inspections are based on cooperation among all parts of the system, in turn using the information and its analysis as the backbone of security operations.
Last November, the U.S. Ambassador Raul Yzaguirre supported the proposed installation of X-rays in the ports of the country. The diplomat said that the U.S. government is doing everything possible to prevent the flow of drugs through the country.
“We will increase the efforts and resources to address the drug issue. It’s a serious problem and we recognize that although the Dominican Republic is not the highest hub for the transhipment of drugs, when we start to control the flow in Central America, the trend is a diversion to the Caribbean and the Dominican Republic,” he said to the newspaper Diario Libre.
Izaguirre highlighted the need to increase the control of all shipments through the Dominican Republic during a meeting with the Dominican American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAMDR).
Strangely enough, this organization requested to the Minister of the Presidency, Gustavo Montalvo, the cancellation of the contract with an American company that has the license to establish a system of digitalization of containers and the installation of X-rays in the ports at one third of the current price.
The weak and insufficient control in the seaports
Controlling the inspections in the seaports is so important that powerful Dominican groups with media connections are lobbying the government of President Danilo Medina to maintain the same weak and inadequate control system that is less effective and more expensive than the one proposed by Border Support Services, Inc., an American company.
Ten years ago, then-president Hipolito Mejia and the Dominican Congress approved a “contract-law” to give the company ICSSI management of the inspections, including use of the most advanced screening technology.
ICSSI was bought this year by the U.S. company Border Support Services with the support of an executive order signed by President Leonel Fernandez.
The “contract-law” has not been executed and Border Support Services is trying to negotiate its implementation with prices below the same services currently provided in Puerto Rico and other countries.
Also, a special commission created by President Fernandez gave the green light to Border Support Services to start the inspections with a range of prices below the original prices of ICSSI and the current fees.
Border Support Services has proposed to charge around $50 per container with the most advanced technology in the world provided by the company Smiths Detection, which will allow the inspection of 150 containers per hour. The container without merchandise would cost $25 within a very competitive range of prices.
The current system, run by the company DP World, is charging more than $200 per container and for the most part is done by “visual inspection,” but only to the empty containers without any merchandise and with a small penetration of 140 millimeters, less than half of the system proposed by the Border Support Services, according to Smiths Detection.
The screening machines now in place, donated by the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo, can inspect no more than 50 containers per hour. The system currently in place cannot detect the shipment of illicit drugs and other dangerous goods, according to several specialists.
The status quo opens the door to Dominican import companies to avoid paying taxes and paves the way for drug traffickers to operate in a country where the consumption of drugs have increased considerably.
Disclaimer: The Chairman of VOXXI, Salomon Melgen, has an ownership stake in ICSSI.