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Drug gangs infiltrated a port in Panama through employees who introduce cocaine into cargo containers bound for Europe, a trafficking scheme that shows how Panama’s maritime industry is used to transport large quantities of narcotics across the Atlantic.
Local gangs, in alliance with Colombian traffickers, have become increasingly involved in the protection and illegal transportation of cocaine in cargo ships docked in the port city of Colón, along the northern end of the Panama Canal, La Prensa reported.
The cocaine arrives from Colombia by means of human couriers, who cross the Darien cork, a portion of the jungle that separates Panama and Colombia, with up to 10 kilograms on the back. The gangs of Columbus receive the cocaine and introduce it to the port with the help of employees in collusion with them. These employees, known as “cuadrillas”, include security guards at the entrance to the port and stevedores, who hide drugs inside the sheets of cargo containers and in loads of fruit destined for Europe.
According to La Prensa, a port security guard can earn up to US $ 10,000 per shipment.
In 2018, the authorities of Colon arrested 330 people and seized 12 tons of cocaine, according to government figures. Almost half of the cocaine seized was discovered in the port terminals.
InSight Crime Analysis
The boom in cocaine production in Colombia and the growing appetite for alkaloid in Europe have turned Panama and its huge maritime transport industry into the target of drug traffickers.
The strategic location of Panama has made it an intermediate step for shipments of narcotics from South America. But the volume of cocaine that passes through the country has grown.
Last year, authorities confiscated 73 tons of cocaine, a huge increase from the 11.2 tons captured in 2000, according to the Public Ministry of Panama. And from 2014 to 2017, the amount of cocaine seized went from almost 40 tons to more than 80.
The more than 100 percent increase in cocaine seized in four years can be attributed to better interdiction measures by the authorities, but it is also likely to have to do with record cocaine production in Colombia.
The cargo ships that pass through Panama in the direction of Europe are especially attractive for Colombian traffickers, who seek to gain access to markets other than the United States, where they have lost ground to Mexican criminal groups. The transfer of the drug by the Atlantic is a way in which the Colombian traffickers compensate the loss , because the prices in the streets of Europe are high and the demand of the substance continues in increase.
Panama is not the only country in Latin America whose ports are targeted by traffickers. A remote port on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica has presented a sudden growth in the volume of cocaine discovered in cargoes destined for Europe. And authorities in Brazil have revealed a new traffic route from a disused port to the Netherlands.
The ports of northern Europe have also been inundated with cocaine . The port of Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, and the port of Antwerp, Belgium, registered the seizure of more than 73 tons of cocaine in 2018, an increase of almost 35 percent, in relation to the 54 tons confiscated in both docks in 2017.
Introducing cocaine into a boat with containers filled with fruit may seem like an antiquated smuggling tactic, but for traffickers it remains an effective method, and port employees will always be susceptible to their offers.
Source: Insight Crime