By Youri Kemp
Caribbean News Now associate managing editor
WASHINGTON, USA – The 2018 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume One on Chemical and Drug Control, published by the US State Department, has listed The Bahamas, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica as “Major Illicit Drug Producing and Major Drug-Transit Countries.” Also, on the list are the Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama along with regional neighbours Venezuela and Columbia.
The report classifies that a major illicit drug producing country is one in which:
(A) 1,000 hectares or more of illicit opium poppy is cultivated or harvested during a year;
(B) 1,000 hectares or more of illicit coca is cultivated or harvested during a year; or
(C) Five thousand hectares or more of illicit cannabis is cultivated or harvested during a year unless the president determines that such illicit cannabis production does not significantly affect the United States.
Also, a major drug-transit country is one:
(A) that is a significant direct source of illicit narcotic or psychotropic drugs or other controlled substances significantly affecting the United States;
(B) through which are transported such drugs or substances.
Of all of the countries on the list, some 22 of them, US President Donald Trump has designated that Bolivia and Venezuela have “failed demonstrably” during the previous 12 months to adhere to their obligations under international counter-narcotics agreements.
The INCSR stated that Venezuela is one of the preferred trafficking routes for illegal drugs, predominantly cocaine, from South America to the Caribbean region, Central America, the United States, Western Africa and Europe, due to its porous western border with Colombia, weak judicial system, sporadic international counter-narcotics cooperation, and permissive and corrupt environment.
Also that public corruption, particularly among senior government officials, was making efforts to curb international drug trafficking more difficult, considering that the Venezuelan president, Nicolas Maduro, has within his cabinet a member designated by the United States government as a narcotics “Kingpin.”
On 13 February 2017, under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, United States sanctioned Tareck Zaidan El Aissami Maddah, current Venezuelan minister of industries and national production. El Aissami also served as vice president of Venezuela under Maduro up until June 2018 and also as governor of the Venezuelan State of Aragua during 2012 to 2017 as well as the minister of the interior and justice during 2008 to 2012 under former Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez.
The report went on to detail several of the key issues the US claims they are faced with internationally with the countries on the drug trafficking and drug production list.
Concerning The Bahamas, the report stated that The Bahamas is not a significant drug producing country. However, The Bahamas remains a significant transhipment point for illicit drugs bound for the United States and other international markets and that due to the proximity to the US, drug traffickers can blend in among numerous pleasure craft moving between Florida and The Bahamas and that trafficking also occurs through commercial freighters and commercial and private planes.
The report went further concerning the Bahamian case in that they identify that the greatest challenge to the Bahamian government in tackling the trafficking issue remains the weakness of the Bahamian criminal justice sector.
“While the average time between initial arraignment and trial in 2017 was within 90 days for minor offences, for more serious matters, such as those involving trafficking, smuggling, firearms or gang violence, regular adjournments prolonged cases, in some instances for several years. Many accused choose to go to trial, confident the courts will take years to move their case through the system, and the government will eventually drop the charges.”
The report also stated clearly that drug trafficking and related smuggling would remain a primary concern for the United States in The Bahamas. The United States will continue to assist Bahamian efforts to counter these networks and increase efficiencies in the administration of justice through a range of various bilateral and multilateral initiatives already in operation.
The report stated that Haiti remains a transit point for cocaine originating in South America and marijuana originating in Jamaica, traversing the country’s porous borders en route to the United States and other markets. This traffic takes advantage of Haiti’s severely under-patrolled maritime boundaries and its extensive land border with the Dominican Republic.
The report also cited that one of Haiti’s constraining factors is their systematically poor judicial performance, due to old penal and criminal procedural codes, opaque court proceedings, lack of judicial oversight, and widespread judicial corruption. To date, there have been five successful convictions for drug trafficking, and only one conviction on corruption-related charges in Haitian courts.
As a result of the weak country systems, most importantly the criminal justice and corrupt judicial system, bilateral efforts for training and joint narcotics operations will not yield the results wished the report concluded on Haiti.
Jamaica remains the largest Caribbean source country of marijuana and a significant transit point for cocaine trafficked from South America to North America and other international markets. Traffickers also export Jamaican-grown marijuana to other Caribbean countries in return for illicit firearms and other contraband.
Along with the Jamaican maritime boundaries being challenging to patrol and the judicial system hobbled and overburdened, the report went on to highlight that in addition to these constraining factors, and notwithstanding that Jamaican law penalizes corruption, but in practice, corruption remains entrenched and widespread, and the judicial system has a poor record of prosecuting corruption cases against law enforcement and government officials.
The report concluded on Jamaica that cooperation between Jamaica and the United States related to drug trafficking and transnational crime continued to be active in 2018, as evidenced by the high number of high-level extraditions of wanted criminals from the United States to Jamaica.
Progress against drug trafficking will significantly depend on efforts to combat corruption and strengthen the judicial system, so traffickers are held criminally accountable; and that new legislation to create an independent anticorruption investigation agency and US-supported programs to weed out corrupt officials may represent a step forward in this regard along with strengthening the Jamaican Major Organized Crime and Anti-corruption Agency of 2018.