Report: Cuba has kept drug trafficking, consumption in check

In this July 19, 2015 photo released by the U.S. Coast Guard, crew members secure cocaine bales from a self-propelled semi-submersible interdicted in international waters. Officials say drug traffickers are increasingly turning to the sea to get their loads to U.S. markets. U.S. Coast Guard via AP – AP

Although Cuba sits in close proximity to Caribbean drug lanes and the U.S. market, the U.S. State Department’s annual narcotics control report found that it’s not a major consumer, producer or transit point for illegal narcotics, and drug consumption on the island remains low.

The report to Congress, which was released Friday, discusses the record of countries around the world in combating the global drug trade. It is the first time since 2008 that the report was rolled out to the media.

It comes at a time that William Brownfield, assistant secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, says the United States is experiencing “perhaps the worst drug crisis that we have seen in the United States of America since the 1980s, and the worst heroin and opioids crisis that we have seen in the United States in more than 60 years.”

But it is also a time when Cuba and the United States have begun to work more closely on combating the drug trade. A new U.S.-Cuba drug accord was signed in July 2016, and there is a U.S. Coast Guard liaison in the U.S. Embassy in Havana to coordinate with Cuban law enforcement. Direct communications between the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and Cuba’s National Anti-Drug Directorate began in July.

The Coast Guard and Cuban authorities have been sharing tactical information on vessels transiting Cuban waters that are suspected of trafficking and are coordinating responses.

“Cuba’s intensive security presence and interdiction efforts have kept supply down and prevented traffickers from establishing a foothold,” said the report. “Cuba concentrates supply reduction efforts by preventing smuggling through territorial waters, rapidly collecting wash-ups, and conducting thorough airport searches.”

Cuba’s intensive security presence and interdiction efforts have kept supply down and prevented traffickers from establishing a foothold.

State Department report
The most recent maritime seizure of drugs by Cuban authorities occurred in 2015. That year, the Cuban government seized 906 kilograms of illegal drugs, including 182 kilos of cocaine, 700 kilos of marijuana and 24 kilos of hashish oil. That same year, Cuban authorities detected the incursions of 48 suspicious go-fast boats along the island’s southeastern coast.

In July 2016, Cuban authorities sentenced 11 Cubans to 15 to 30 years in prison for smuggling marijuana from Jamaica through Cuba to the Bahamas, the report said. During the case, the principal organizer

was extradited from Jamaica, a country with which Cuba also shares real-time information on suspected trafficking.The report also looked at money laundering and financial crimes around the world.

“The government-controlled banking sector, low internet and cell phone usage rates, and lack of government and legal transparency render Cuba an unattractive location for money laundering through financial institutions,” the report said.

Although the risk of money laundering is low in Cuba, the report said Cuba has a number of “strategic deficiencies” in its anti-money-laundering regime. Among suggestions were that Cuba increase the transparency of its financial sector as well as in criminal investigations and prosecutions.
Follow Mimi Whitefield on Twitter: @HeraldMimi

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