Caribbean drug trafficking rose dramatically last year - report

By Bebe Buksh
Stabroek News
January 26, 2001

Drug trafficking in the region increased dramatically last year and could accelerate in the foreseeable future, according to the 1999/2000 Report on Drug Trends in the Caribbean.

It said that for last year alone, the Region "strengthened its position as the world's biggest cocaine transit hub."

Underlying this growth was a sharp rise in cocaine transshipment through the Caribbean, representing 85% of all income generated.

The marijuana trade, the choice drug in the Region-and the only illegal narcotic substance produced within the Caribbean-remained stable during last year, accounting for the remaining 15%.

The trafficking and consumption of heroin, which have increased slightly during last year, combined with the emerging trade in amphetamine-type drugs together, account for less than one per cent of the total drug business in the Region.

The report was prepared by the Caribbean Drug Control Coordination Mechanism (CCM) for the Caribbean Regional Office of the United Nations Drug Control Programme (UNDCP).

The cover of the report, released by the CARICOM Secretariat at a news conference yesterday, says that the document is not "official" and was for "information only", and that the "opinions expressed [therein] do not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations."

Nevertheless, the CCM estimated that in 1999 about two-thirds of the total cocaine production that left South America for world markets (460 tonnes) moved through the Caribbean-45% for continental US, which represented a 20% rise over the previous year.

Seventy-five per cent of the cocaine leaving South America for European and other markets (175 tonnes) passed through the Caribbean last year.

The CCM outlined three reasons for the Caribbean scenario:
- the gradual geographical concentration of cocaine production in Colombia has negatively impacted the drug situation in the Caribbean;
- the steady growth of cocaine markets in Western Europe and the emerging consumption among the nouveau rich in Eastern Europe have also helped to fuel this increase in trafficking through the Caribbean;
- a major reorganisation of cocaine trafficking to the US has made the Caribbean a more attractive transshipment channel, as relations between Colombian and Mexican traffickers have deteriorated over the years.

Maritime vessels remain the preferred means of drug transshipment (89%) through the Caribbean, since the 1990s, when radar, over-flights and sea-borne surveillance made airdrops and landing much riskier. The remaining 11% is done by plane.

In general terms, the CCM said, the evolving trend in the Caribbean was the consequence of the well-known "balloon-effect".

"Where consumption remains constant or even increases in some areas, cuts in drug trafficking in some regions-in this instance Mexico and other South American countries-tend to increase trafficking elsewhere, in this case the Caribbean."

But apart from external factors which influenced this shift, the CCM pointed out that several intrinsic features were also responsible. The first and most obvious was location, followed by "weak states, economies dependent on sectors such as tourism or financial services which are vulnerable to money laundering, poor living conditions, and economic and human networks connecting the Region with drug-consuming countries." From 1995 to 1999, a total of 3,468 kilogrammes of cocaine was seized in Guyana.

Guyana signed on to the Barbados Plan of Action launched in May 1996. Under this programme, Guyana benefited from training in demand-reduction activities, child-parent encounters and others under the Organisation of American States, Col Fairbairn Liverpool, CCM coordinator said. However, he could not vouch for the results of these programmes, and others.

UNDCP Caribbean Regional Office Head, Michael Platzer, announced that his office was soliciting project proposals, and had received a number of these, which were "practical", in relation to drug treatment, for instance, from the Ministry of Health. He will visit the Salvation Army hostel here to discuss ways of treating drug addicts. Platzer's presence here was in association with the launching of the World Drug Report 2000 in London, England.

Speaking of his hopes for an increase in programmes for the Caribbean, Platzer said he was encouraged by Guyana's Drug Policy.

Col Liverpool acknowledged the need for more programmes for Guyana too, and pointed out that ecstacy was becoming prevalent in many nightclubs in the Region.

Though not able to give a picture of money laundering activities and to what extent these were a reflection of the illicit drug trade, Platzer said the two were closely linked, since "drug traffickers have to get their money back."

Deputy General Counsel with the CARICOM Secretariat, Gloria Richards-Johnson, stressed that the Caribbean must ensure that it puts in place the legal framework to deal with the drug scourge and ratify conventions.

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