For many decades, the Caribbean Sea has been the primary maritime route for smuggling illicit drugs into the USA. With the USA being the world’s largest market for illegal drugs, the Caribbean’s access to the long Florida coastlines makes it an ideal smuggling route for producers across the Caribbean, Central and South America.
Which Drugs Are Smuggled Through The Caribbean Sea ?
The principal drug to be smuggled across the Caribbean continues to be cocaine. The leading destination, as indicated above, is the USA, mainly from the top three producers of Bolivia, Peru and Columbia. The primary routes are via Jamaica, where large criminal gangs regulate the flow of cocaine, and the Dominican Republic. Unfortunately, state institutions in these two countries simply don’t have the resources to curtail drug passage through their ports effectively.
It is estimated that around 1000MT of cocaine cross the Caribbean each year. However, it is difficult to accurately put a figure on this as drug enforcement agencies believe that only about 6% of traffic is ever detected, and routes are constantly being changed to avoid detection.
Another drug commonly trafficked across the Caribbean is cannabis. The primary producer for this is Jamaica. However, with the drug being decriminalized in many states of the USA, this trade is declining as legal farms in the USA have begun to cut into demand from overseas.
Other drugs shipped using the Caribbean Sea maritime route include fentanyl, heroin and other opioids. However, these are relatively minor problems as the cocaine market takes up over 90% of drugs shipped through the Caribbean.
Which Agencies are Seizing Drugs in the Caribbean Sea?
As stated earlier, maritime routes are constantly being altered to avoid law enforcement detection, making it exceptionally difficult to police. In addition, the small island nations in the Caribbean have few resources to combat international crime, so it is mainly left to the bigger players in the region.
The Mexican authorities work with Interpol to control drug trafficking. However, this is primarily land-based, although Mexico’s small navy occasionally liaises with US authorities on specific operations.
US authorities do the bulk of maritime drug policing in the Caribbean. To accomplish this, the Joint Interagency Task Force South, headquartered in Key West, Florida, brings together a range of governmental organizations under the direction of the Coast Guard. This task force includes the Department of Defense, Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration, Customs and Border Patrol, FBI and CIA.
The task force works with agencies from over 20 other nations across the Caribbean, Latin America and even Europe. It uses coast guard and navy ships, submarines and small boats to patrol the Caribbean Sea and conduct intelligence-led ship seizures. One of the most active partners remains the French Navy, leading operation in its Economic Exclusive Zone, which recently realized several record drug seizures with the warship Germinal.
How Are Drugs Moved Across The Caribbean Sea ?
For many decades, the main transportation methods used ultra-highspeed small boats that could travel mostly undetected in the busy Caribbean maritime routes. However, in recent years the volume of drugs moved has increased, and smugglers have adopted other modes of transportation. Larger ships are now being used to carry drugs and even some of the largest container ships. They also use semi-submersibles; one was recently memorably captured carrying ten tons of cocaine and was placed on the lawn outside Southern Command’s headquarters in Miami as a trophy.
The drug trade across maritime routes in the Caribbean Sea has shown no signs of falling off over recent decades. Rather, it is larger than ever. Massive amounts of cocaine continue to cross from Latin America, and it seems that the War on Drugs is no closer to victory than it was at its beginning. Although vast amounts of cash and effort are used in efforts aimed at reducing supply and policing smuggling routes, it seems that addressing the demand end of the chain is the only way to end this illegal and destructive trade.