U.S. Tightens Noose on Drug Smugglers by Doubling Watchdog Ships

DEA in San Diego after capturing a trafficker’s submarine with 18,000 pounds of cocaine in 2019.

The U.S. government on Wednesday tightened the noose around the neck of South America’s drug traffickers, with a new plan to double the resources to interdict shipments at sea.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said the decision came out of a long term study to reorganize priorities and resources provided the ships to attach to this mission. But it was the belief that America’s emergency focus to fight the Corona Virus was emboldening traffickers for more brazen smuggling attempts on the idea that we were distracted that prompted the move now.

 

Speaking with U.S. President Donald J. Trump at the White House before the Corona Virus update, Esper was joined by Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Army General Mark Milley, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gilday, Commandant of the Coast Guard Admiral Schultz, Attorney General Bill Barr and National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien.

President Trump said: “Today, the United States is launching enhanced counter narcotics operations in the Western hemisphere to protect the American people from the deadly scourge of illegal narcotics. We must not let the drug cartels exploit the pandemic to threaten American lives. In cooperation with the 22 partner nations, U.S. Southern Command will increase surveillance, disruption and seizures of drug shipments and provide additional support for eradication efforts which are going on right now at a record pace. We’re deploying additional Navy destroyers, combat ships, aircraft and helicopters, Coast Guard cutters and Air Force surveillance aircraft, doubling our capabilities in the region. Very importantly, our forces are fully equipped with personnel protective equipment and we’ve taken additional safety measures to ensure our troops remain healthy.”

General Milley was blunt: “We came upon some intelligence sometime ago that the drug cartels as a result of COVID-19 were going to try to take advantage of the situation and try to infiltrate additional drugs into our country. As we know that 70,000 Americans die on an average annual basis to drugs, that’s unacceptable. We’re at war with COVID-19, we’re at war with terrorists and we are at war with the drug cartels as well. This was the United States military, you will not penetrate this country. You will not get past jump street. You’re not going to come in here and kill additional Americans. And we will marshal whatever assets are required to prevent your entry into this country to kill Americans. So right now the Navy has marshaled additional grey hull ships from both PACOM and EUCOM and for the Naval fleet at Norfolk. And they are set sail already and they’re in the Caribbean right now. In addition to that, there’s 10 Coast Guard Cutters and there’s special operations forces and security force assistance brigades along with Air Force reconnaissance aircraft. The bottom line is you’re not going to get through. Now is not the time to try to penetrate the United States with illegal drugs to kill Americans. We’re the United States military and we will defend our country, regardless of the cost.”

Attorney General Barr tied the move to advances in partnering with the Mexican government and his work last week to stop Venezuela from being a launch platform for the narcos.

Last week the DOJ put a $25 million bounty on the heads of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and his associates, fingering them for allowing Colombian cartels to use their country as a launching pad to the Caribbean, and ultimately, to the U.S. for billions of dollars worth of drugs.

At least one of Maduro’s associates was since reported to have been nabbed, turning himself in while in exile in Colombia to be extradited without trial to the U.S., according to the AP. Retired Venezuelan Army General Cliver Alcalá, who appeared to be an outspoken critic of Maduro for years, was charged by U.S. prosecutors with running, with Maduro, socialist party boss Diosdado Cabello and another retired army general, a narcoterrorist conspiracy that sent 250 metric tons of cocaine a year to the U.S. The DOJ had offered a $10 million reward for Alcalá’s arrest.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also last week floated his willingness to drop sanctions on the country if both Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaidó to step aside in favor of a five-person governing council, unveiling a one-page “Democratic Transition Framework for Venezuela” plan.

On Wednesday, AG Barr said: “For years, the cartels have been using these sea routes to take the cocaine up from principally Columbia, now also out of Venezuela. And these sea routes on both coasts have become the primary means of bringing cocaine up to the United States. Because of the superb work done by the Defense Department and our intelligence community, we know exactly most of the time where these traffickers are at sea. But we’re significantly have been up til now, significantly limited in our ability to interdict because of the numbers of the assets we have deployed.”

“Prior today, this limitation meant we could only intercept the fraction of the traffickers and the various boats that were detected. This will now double our capacity and we are talking about hundreds of tons of cocaine we’re now in a position to seize. So this is going to radically improve our interdiction efforts and put tremendous pressure we think on the cartels. And the effort that SOUTHCOM is undertaking is going to save lives by taking drugs off the street. Last week, I announced the unsealing of charges of narco terrorism drug trafficking and other crimes against the former Maduro regime, 16 members of that regime and their involvement in trafficking of 250 metric tons a year. A lot of that comes by sea, as I discussed at that time, but also because of the pressure we’re applying by our sea interdiction. They are trying to establish an air route out of Venezuela up into Central America, which is one of the reasons we’re trying to move firmly against that corrupt regime.”

The hand-to-hand battle against drug traffickers has been one of technology, not it’s becoming about the politics.

Last year, rather than fishing boats, the Navy and Coast Guard caught giant submarines. A $312 million shipment of 18,000 pounds of cocaine was caught off the coast of San Diego, while the first transatlantic narcosub was caught after completing the Colombia-Spain journey.

For long-time watchers of this space, the rub here is that the great cash machine of the drug cartels needs to end to finish off the corrupt regimes of Latin America, but also to weaken those inside the U.S. who profit from that scourge.

As for the why now, with the world sheltered in place to stay away from germs, the global economy at a standstill, it’s a great time to drop the hammer.

h/t to Revtranslations for the free translation

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