by Nefer Munoz
(IPS) SAN JOSE --
America, an established route for
international drug traffickers, now is being used as a cocaine warehouse by
drug barons, according to government officials here.
This is the result of the consolidation of Central American trafficking networks that used to function separately, the officials say.
"Of the last 30 drug enforcement operations, the kingpins in 17 of the cases were Guatemalan," said Rogelio Ramos, vice-minister to the Presidency and the architect of Costa Rica's anti-narcotics policy.
Ramos maintains that Central America has seen increasing traffic during the last two years as more drugs are transported from the producing countries of Latin America to the centers of consumption in the United States and Europe.
While the amount of drugs being confiscated has increased, officials are concerned that the quantity going undetected has increased even more. In Guatemala alone, authorities seized 4,000 kilograms of cocaine in 1996, but last year the amount seized had more than doubled, reaching 9,216 kilograms.
In 1998, Costa Rican authorities confiscated a total of 8,500 kilograms of cocaine, more than four times the 1996 total.
problem becomes even more serious when warehousing in the region means
that intermediaries receive payments in cocaine, which they then introduce to
"It has had a serious impact, causing an increase in local consumption," said Laura Chinchilla, former security minister for Costa Rica (1996-1998) and current advisor for a Central American justice project of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).
"The peak in drug trafficking began in the 1980s, however, we did not initiate prevention measures until the 1990s. In other words, we lost 10 years," she admits.
According to Ramos, drug traffickers currently are taking advantage of the fact that the United States cannot patrol the seas that are part of Central American sovereignty. The traffickers have used this fact to create a corridor for their drug-laden speedboats.
"So now parliament is working on a plan for a joint patrol," Ramos said. This will allow the United States and local security forces to work together in patrolling within the 12-mile limit of national waters.
Some observers, however, say that this will not solve the drug trafficking problem.
Writer-philosopher Helio Gallardo believes that the region's countries place too much emphasis on police repression and not enough on the public health aspect of the problem.
"The joint patrol plan is doomed to fail," said Gallardo, who also believes that the region should think about legalizing drug use in the long term. "Drug consumption cannot be prevented in modern societies. What we can do, is keep the drugs out of the mafia's hands."
In any case, regional authorities confirm that they are not just sitting back to watch, but have invested large sums of money in the fight against the illegal drug trade.
For example, in Costa Rica the government has earmarked between $2.8 and $3.5 million of the national budget to combat drug trafficking and money laundering and pay for prevention and rehabilitation.
But the huge drug hauls indicates efforts have not been enough. Panama, for example, saw Central America's highest volume of drug seizures in the last few years.
In 1994, Panama confiscated 14,733 kilograms of cocaine, while in 1998 the total reached 33,961 kilograms.
"It is imperative that our future anti-drug policies have a deep impact on the issue within each our countries, but at the same time, they must be shared and consistent with international policies," Chinchilla said.
May 10, 1999 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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