Sunday, 29 March 2015

Latin America: The Most Important Points in the 2015 US State Dept Drug Report

PDF version of the report available. see link below

Every year, the US State Department releases a comprehensive report to Congress assessing what foreign governments are doing to fight drug trafficking. Below, InSight Crime has identified some of the most important points for a mix of countries in Latin America.
Click through the table of contents below to go to a country of interest.  
Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean
South America

Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean


Policing in Belize has undergone some important reforms, but violence nonetheless appears to be going up. Belize City implemented precinct policing and is continuing to support community policing and neighborhood watch programs, according to the US state department. But while the murder rate dropped by 32 percent between 2012 and 2013, murders appeared to be on the rise during the first nine months of 2014. 
- Marijuana reform remains on the agenda. Three years after its creation, a committee meant to study the issue of marijuana reform recently issued their conclusions, calling for the decriminalization of less than 10 grams of the drug. 

Costa Rica

Concerns abound about drug-related crimes and the presence of foreign cartels. The growing influence of Mexican and South American drug trafficking organizations has caused much anxiety in Costa Rica. Nonetheless, the country still has the lowest homicide rate in Central America. 
- The general public is most worried about corruption. A September 2013 poll found most Costa Ricans are more concerned about government corruption than unemployment, drug trafficking, and citizen insecurity.
Security spending keeps going up. Since 2002, Costa Rica increased spending on law enforcement agencies by an average of 16 percent each year. Funding came from a tax on businesses enacted in 2012, an anomaly in a region where other governments have proved reluctant to collect the taxes needed to fund security initiatives. Thanks in part to this increased spending, between 2010 and 2014 Costa Rica increased its police force by nearly 2,000 people. 


Cuba and the US continue to collaborate when it comes to drug trafficking. The US has an interdiction specialist in the US Coast Guard who coordinates with Cuban law enforcement, while Cuba's general "intensive security presence" has kept drug trafficking organizations from establishing a presence on the island, the report says. With warmer relations established between the US and Cuba, this is one area that may yet see even more collaboration between the two countries. 

Dominican Republic

 Around six percent of all cocaine being trafficked to North America and Europe goes through the island of Hispaniola, much of it through the Dominican Republic. The country has also seen an increase in drug-related violence, which has been partly attributed to traffickers paying local facilitators in drugs rather than cash.
Drug flights from South America to the Dominican Republic have "all but disappeared." Maritime trafficking is now the favored and primary method of smuggling drugs into and out of the country.
-The Dominican Republic remains one of the most active extradition partners in the world for the United States. In 2013, the Dominican Republic extradited 22 fugitives to the United States, and another 25 during the first 10 months of 2014.

El Salvador

The US still sees transnational drug trafficking is a significant issue in El Salvador. The country was listed as a major drug transit country for the fourth year in a row in President Obama's annual report to Congress
Prison reform is lagging. Prisons and pre-trail detention cells were still operating at 330 percent capacity at the end of 2014. The United States has been helping El Salvador further expand a program which gives inmates a two-day sentence reduction for each full day of work on community service projects, as well as $50 a month.


There has been "little advancement" in strengthening Guatemala's public institutions, despite successes in capturing drug kingpins in 2014. The report observes that Guatemala's police remain corrupt and ineffective, the judiciary inefficient, and the prison system inadequate. Exacerbating these problems is Guatemala's low tax collection rate and a political stalemate that prevented a new budget from being passed in 2014.
There were some key advances in border security. The US helped Guatemala form a new drug interdiction unit on the Honduras-Guatemala border in 2014, consisting of police, military, and immigration officials. The joint unit is intended to complement another one stationed on the northern Guatemala-Mexico border.


Drug flights are down. In 2014, US authorities estimated that 60 percent of drug flights leaving South America first landed in Honduras, down from 75 percent in 2013. The Caribbean coastal region remains the primary landing zone for both air and maritime traffickers.
Gangs are not believed to participate in transnational drug trafficking. While gangs like MS-13 and Barrio 18 contribute to violence and drug trafficking in Honduras, the report states that they "do not appear to be a formal part of the transnational drug logistics chain." Instead, their activities generally involve drug distribution at the local level, as well as extortionkidnapping, and human trafficking.
Honduras' asset seizure program has become a valuable source of funds for crime prevention. Honduras' Office for the Administration of Seized Assets (OABI) donated one-third of the resources from seized assets to crime and violence prevention programs. This included more than $1 million given to outreach centers for at-risk youth. 


Jamaica remains the largest Caribbean supplier of marijuana to the United States. The report states that some drug trafficking organizations exchange Jamaican marijuana for cocaine, and authorities estimate that approximately 15,000 hectares of marijuana are grown in the country.
The justice system is seriously dysfunctional. Only five percent of murder cases resulted in convictions in 2014. This has contributed to a high violent crime rate, lack of cooperation by witnesses and jurors, frustration among police and the public, and "a significant social cost and drain on the economy."


Violence is decreasing but other crimes are going up. The most recent government statistics cited by the US State Department report indicate that homicides dropped 14 percent drop between 2012 and 2013. However, reported kidnappings and extortionrose sharply during the same period. Also rising is Mexico's security budget: it now stands at $11 billion, a nearly 7 percent increase from the previous year.
- The US has shifted the focus of its aid to Mexico. As the report states, aid has "shifted from providing large-scale equipment" to "training and capacity building," along with more focus on assisting state and municipal institutions, rather than federal ones. 
Judicial reform is inching forward. Only three states have implemented the reforms required by the 2008 constitutional amendments, which allow for US-style public trials. 
The high-value target strategy has resulted in more violence. The report notes that the capture of top-profile drug lords like El Chapo were major successes, but has "resulted in smaller, fractured groups that are violently attempting to consolidate their power."


While more peaceful than its Central American neighbors, Nicaragua remains a major transit route for cocaine heading northwards. Long-term unemployment of 55 percent has created a favorable climate for drug trafficking organizations to conduct their business in the country, the report states. 
Nicaragua is intent on strengthening and expanding its police force, which has previously earned praise for its community policing model. The government took out a $16.3 million loan from the Central American Bank for Economic Integration, meant to provide for 15 new police stations, 245 transportation units and other resources.


Panama's transportation infrastructure continues to provide plenty of opportunities for transnational drug traffickers. This infrastructure includes the second-largest free trade zone in the world, the Panama Canal, and the fourth busiest airport in Latin America.
With US help, real-time mapping and analysis of criminal activity has helped reduce crime in certain areas. However, this "modern policing" model hasn't yet been widely implemented across the country. 

South America


Argentina remains a transit nation for cocaine headed to Europe, but domestic cocaine production and consumption is also of growing concern. These issues were also highlighted in a recent report by a local NGO which described how several cocaine laboratories operate in Buenos Aires. This same report prompted Pope Francis to remark earlier this year that he was concerned about the "Mexicanization" of Argentina. 


Bolivia is a major transit country for Peruvian cocaine paste. According to Peruvian police, up to 95 percent of the cocaine paste that leaves Peru by air passes through Bolivia. Most of the cocaine smuggled out of Bolivia goes to other Latin American nations, especially Brazil, for domestic consumption. Other cocaine shipments are exported to West Africa or Europe. Meanwhile, roughly one percent of cocaine seized in the Unites States originates in Bolivia, the US State Department report states. As previously reported by InSight Crime, Bolivia's status as a major supplier to Latin America's domestic drug market has made the country a potential haven for transnational organized crime.
Foreigners are heavily involved in Bolivia's transnational drug trade. The US State Department identifies Colombians, Brazilians, and Peruvians as engaging in drug production, trafficking, and money laundering.  
-The country has "failed demonstrably" to meet counternarcotics obligations, according to the US president's office. The US State Department report states that Bolivia's legally produced coca continues to be diverted into illicit drug production; however, coca cultivation overall is going down


Brazil is the world's second-largest consumer of cocaine and likely the largest consumer of cocaine-based products. While Brazil provides a holistic approach to addiction treatment, including medical care and job training, there aren't enough programs to currently meet the needs of its addict population, the report states. 
Despite large-scale border security programs, the report states Brazil "lacks the institutional capacity to stem the flow of illegal drugs across its borders." The billions of dollars invested in border security is complemented, in part, by the $1.5 billion that the country's leading agency for reducing drug use, known as the SENAD, was supposed to have spent by the end of 2014. 


Chile is a transit country for cocaine destined primarily for Europe. Meanwhile, internal drug consumption in the country has remained stable, while the number of drug seizures and dismantled cocaine processing labs has gone up.
Chile has invested substantial sums of money in combating smuggling along its borders with Peru and Bolivia. The movement of drug mules carrying small amounts of narcotics between Bolivia and Chile is a particular problem


Cocaine production increased, despite crop eradication programs and aggressive interdiction efforts. Over 90 percent of cocaine seized in the US comes from Colombia
Responding to increasing consumption rates, the government has placed greater emphasis on drug education and prevention programs. Colombian authorities are looking to combine demand reduction programs with alternatives to incarceration for minor drug offenses in order to free up resources to combat more serious drug-related crimes. 
Cooperation between the US and Colombia remains strong. Just one example of the positive US-Colombia relationship is the number of individuals Colombia extradited to the US last year -- 138. It remains to be seen what kind of additional support the US may provide, in the event of a peace agreement with left-wing insurgent force the FARC.


Ecuador is a major transit nation for heroin and cocaine moving from Peru and Colombia to Europe and the United States. Ecuador is also a major transit country for chemical precursors used to process illegal drugs. Permeable borders as well as corrupt and weak public institutions make the country vulnerable to organized crime, particularly Mexican and Colombian groups. 
Domestic consumption is rising and there are not enough public treatment facilities for Ecuador's addict population. The US believes the decriminalization of drug possession -- a reform that has not yet been approved in Ecuador -- will exacerbate the problem.  
Cooperation with the United States has been problematic at times. The United States continues to provide some counternarcotics assistance, but Ecuador has steadily taken over responsibility for funding operations. The United States closed its narcotics technical assistance office in Quito in late 2014. 


Guyana remains a major transit country. Cocaine destined for the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, Europe, and West Africa moves through here.
Law enforcement lacks basic resources needed to combat organized crime. Some remote police stations even lack reliable phone service. 


Paraguay is facing down some serious challenges. Public officials, including members of Congress, have been accused of involvement in the drug trade. Arms traffickingmoney laundering, counterfeit money production, and the marijuana trade -- the largest in Latin America -- have essentially turned Paraguay into a hub for organized crime. 
The nation's drug rehabilitation facilities are woefully inadequate. Paraguay has one private drug treatment facility and its only public treatment center has just 30 beds. 


- Peru is the world's largest cocaine producer and second largest coca cultivator. US and Peruvian authorities estimate that up to 180 tons of cocaine are smuggled out of Peru annually, with around 115 tons trafficked over sea routes. 
Domestic drug consumption is growing, particularly in cocaine producing areas. Treatment centers fall short of Peru's estimated 32,000 to 60,000 cocaine addicts. 
Local Peruvian trafficking groups continue to share territory with foreign cartels.These include Colombian and Mexican groups that main sophisticated trafficking networks in Peru.


With little evidence of domestic drug production, Suriname remains primarily a transit zone for cocaine. The drug shipments are headed to Europe, Africa and, to a lesser extent, the United States. 
-Corruption at the highest level remains rampant. President Desi Bouterse has been convicted, in absentia, of drug trafficking by a court in the Netherlands, while his son was recently sentenced on terrorism and drug trafficking charges in a US court. 


While Uruguay isn't a major producer of drugs, traffickers use the country as a logistical base. The country remains appealing as a transit nation, thanks to its borders with Brazil and Argentina. 
Uruguay is behind on its marijuana reform plan. The country was supposed to start selling marijuana in pharmacies in 2014, but implementation has been slow, with much of the government's focus last year on "tendering cultivation licenses and identifying where to purchase seeds."


Political corruption is preventing Venezuela from effectively going after drug traffickers. The report notes that while President Maduro was granted decree powers for a year, as part of an anti-corruption campaign, "It is unclear whether the measures he authorized will be effective tools" to combat the problem. 
Drug trafficking remains a tense issue between the US and VenezuelaLast year's arrest and subsequent release of retired military general Hugo Carvajal was one such low point in the US-Venezuela relationship, with the report noting that Carvajal "was welcomed back to Caracas at a large rally led by President Maduro." 

Download the original reports here: