Top-tier drug smugglers from Central and South America are reportedly living in Jamaica with the sole purpose of easing multibillion-dollar cocaine shipments into North America, Europe and Canada. They provide “added insurance”, recruit couriers and use loads of cash to infiltrate local security systems.
Some of these smugglers are so comfortable they have made lives in Jamaica; and have become integral players in scouting routes for major shipments such as the recent 611lb cocaine run destined for the United States that was ultimately busted by cops at the Norman Manley International Airport (NMIA).
That contraband – the second-largest quantity detected by local forces in recent years and dwarfed by a 2600lb cocaine seizure at a premises in Manchester in July 2019 – has a street value of $2 billion – ‘chicken feed’ for the mediators who only ferret alternative routes to ensure drug lords back home connect the goods with hungry markets up north.
Of least concern to them are the many Jamaican ‘middlemen’ nabbed by local authorities who have had their families destroyed. These are pawns in an unrelenting trade that lures new pieces – even members of the security forces – by the boatloads.
“There are Colombians and even Trinidadians I know of who have been living here in Jamaica for years and their only purpose is to ensure the smooth trafficking of the product from Central America to Jamaica,” one convicted drug courier told The Sunday Gleaner last week.
“One of the easiest places to take drugs is Jamaica. Traffickers are not concerned with the authorities. There is always a corrupt politician, coast guard, police or some other big link. They always want money, and money is never a problem for these people (foreigners),” the source disclosed, adding that Jamaicans are respected in the drug trade locally and abroad as they “always find a way to move the drugs”.
“This is bigger than Jamaica. Most of the people that police arrest are just the middle people; the ‘put on’ man who put the drugs on the plane before take-off or one or two of the facilitators at the airport,” The Sunday Gleaner was informed.
“Any operation of $2 billion must involve several people at the airport and they (foreigners) make and pay for those links. Jamaican criminals alone can’t push through those kinds of drugs,” said the insider, who admittedly maintains his drug connections even after conviction.
Hefty Spending Power
Senior Superintendent Jervis Moore, head of the Police Narcotics Division, listed Venezuelans, Panamanians, Haitians and Costa Ricans among the citizens active in Jamaica’s leg of the cocaine trade and pointed to the cocaine seizure just over a week ago as evidence of their hefty spending power.
Though sometimes arrested and convicted after investigation, cases against these aliens, who usually stay far from the action, are harder to stick and so “it is observed in many instances of huge drug busts, lower-level players within the trade take the fall and top-tier drug dealers go unpunished”, explained Moore.
“These suppliers are aware of the force/power that criminal organisations exercise over the Jamaican public. The suppliers, therefore, feel safe to entrust their product with these criminal organisations to move the product to the intended place of destination,” he explained, adding that fear is also a primal negotiation tactic.
A ramp supervisor arrested during the recent drug bust at the NMIA has undergone an interview and will be officially charged with possession, dealing and taking steps to export cocaine soon.
He adds to a string airport workers, members of the security forces, seaport security guards and members of the emergency services that make up a pool of more than 5,000 arrests, including 250 foreigners, for breaches of the Dangerous Drugs Act islandwide since 2015.
Over the past three years, 2,585 individuals were arrested for breaches of the Dangerous Drugs Act across Jamaica. These include 2,129 males and 456 females. Of those arrested, 2,481 were convicted, while 104 cases were dismisses.
“One of the problems we are having is this kind of insider threat or collaboration with airport staff. For drugs to go through the airport, there has to be collaboration, and this has been going on for some time,” said Superintendent Moore. “We have arrested a lot of people, we have seized a lot of drugs, but this is the first time since I have been here for three years that we have arrested an airport worker.”
The narcotics police chief said that at least 632 individuals have been arrested so far this year, “and the seizure of more than 97,000lb of ganja, valued at J$390 million, and 782lb of cocaine, valued at more than US$39 million. This is an equivalent of J$5.6 billion”.
He added that the Narcotics Division suffers from a dearth of physical and human resources that, like COVID-19, has been putting a strain on his efforts this year.
Moore called for greater public sensitisation of drug trafficking issues locally; however, Rohan Richards, chief technical director at the Ministry of National Security, under whose responsibility the portfolio falls, failed to uphold a promise to respond to Sunday Gleaner queries about the ministry’s efforts last week.
Meanwhile, news of the major drug bust will not augur well for Jamaica and the NMIA, which are subject to international standards, mostly governed by the US, the main destination country for drugs.
The US State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs has painted a bleak picture of Jamaica.
Despite the US’s donation of more than US$20 million worth of equipment, vehicles, vessels and training to boost Jamaica’s efforts to tackle the illegal drug trade since 2014, the country remains a major trans-shipment pain.
“Jamaica’s drug-control efforts face significant challenges from corruption, organised crime, gang activity, resource constraints, and an inefficient criminal justice system,” read a 2018 report by the body. “Repeated delays and trial postponements contribute significant backlog, frustration among police, witnesses, jurors, and the public, and impunity for many offenders.”
NMIA authorities could not facilitate an interview or tour with the newspaper last week. However, Audley Deidrick, president of the Airports Authority of Jamaica, which oversees the privately owned international airports for the Government, was quick to point out the multi-agency commitment to security.
“The security apparatus of our airports spans the gamut of basic personal security for travellers, other users and the public, from acts of interference with civil aviation, terrorism, dangerous goods, contraband and narcotics,” said Deidrick.
“Employees in the airports, regardless of which agency or business they are employed to, are subject to screening for entry to restricted areas of the airports. They also must be issued with a restricted area pass (RAP) to gain access. One of the requirements of RAP is a police record,” he explained.
“Jamaica is a very small society and these people who are involved in these things – even the police – are afraid. Of all the criminals, drug dealers are the most powerful and deadly,” weighed in Christopher Charles, professor of political and social psychology at The University of the West Indies.
“They are, therefore, able to operate more clandestinely just given the scope of their wealth and power and brutality. Federal law enforcement in the US hardly can break them. Even in Mexico, they tend to go after one person at a time. Jamaica is a small state so it is very difficult for us,” he said.