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U.S. Department of State
1996 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, March 1997

United States Department of State

Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs



Stopping the flow of cocaine to the United States remains our main international drug control priority. Cocaine still poses the most serious drug threat to the United States. Crack, the smokeable variety of cocaine, is one of the most addictive drugs on the market. Besides quickly ensnaring its victims, crack is a euphoric stimulant which often provokes violent behavior in users. From the drug trade's vantage point, it is an ideal drug: it is cheap, potent, addictive, widely available, and most important of all, immensely profitable. Crack sales fuel much of the drug violence in America's largest cities, as gangs compete for lucrative sales territory while addicts steal to feed their habit. Though overall cocaine use has dropped markedly since the unbridled consumption of the mid 1980's, it has started to rise among high school students. In a classic case of failing to learn from history, a new generation is experimenting with cocaine, unaware of--or consciously rejecting--the potentially devastating consequences of cocaine.

Despite current antidrug efforts, hundreds of tons of cocaine enter the US every year by land, air, and sea. Even the 100 metric tons or so of cocaine that the USG typically seizes annually have little discernible effect on price or availability. The combination of strong demand and extraordinary profits continue to make the United States the cocaine trade's foremost single market, for the time being at least.

Other parts of the world, however, are also being assailed by cocaine trafficking. For at least half a decade, the South American cocaine syndicates have been shipping hundreds of tons to Europe. Although the principal markets are in the most affluent cities of Western Europe, the syndicates are doing a brisk business in Eastern and Central Europe, as well as in the CIS and NIS countries. The Colombian syndicates have set up distribution centers in Poland and the Czech Republic. The gold-rush spirit that has created a new class of hustling entrepreneurs in Russia and the countries of the former Soviet Union is ideally suited to the consumption of cocaine and other stimulants. And the drug trade is making the most of its opportunity to exploit the new wealth, ambition, and tastes of these ideal customers.

Africa has also attracted the cocaine syndicates' attention. Nigerian trafficking groups are moving significant amounts of cocaine from South America to all parts of Africa. Because of the Nigerian role in the global movement of drugs, West Africa has become an important transit area for cocaine bound for destinations throughout Africa. Ghana seized more cocaine than Jamaica--over a quarter of a metric ton in the first nine months of 1996 alone--twenty times more than Ghanaian authorities had seized in all of 1995. Cocaine has also continued to enter South Africa in important quantities for consumption in the country and for transshipment to other destinations in Africa and Europe. South African enforcement authorities are establishing working links with their Brazilian counterparts to help break up the Nigerian trafficking groups responsible for most of the cocaine flow into Southern Africa.

Source and Transit Country Highlights. Bolivia exceeded its 1996 eradication goal by manually eradicating over 7,500 hectares of illegal coca. While this effort kept coca cultivation at about 1995 levels, it reduced potential coca leaf production by 12 percent. Bolivian enforcement authorities seized 6.8 metric tons of cocaine base and 3.2 metric tons of cocaine HCl.

In Colombia, government forces, assisted by the USG, sprayed over 16,000 hectares of coca. Despite this effort, Colombian coca cultivation increased by 32 percent, the largest relative increase to date in any coca-growing country. We are evaluating the influence of a number of possible causes: a decision by the Colombian drug syndicates to lessen their dependence on Peruvian coca and cocaine, pressure on coca growers by insurgents seeking additional revenue, or factors such as wet weather interfering with herbicide efficacy. The Colombian National Police reported seizing 16 metric tons of cocaine HCl in 1996, less than in previous years, but nonetheless a sizable quantity.

In addition to its effective disruption of the air-bridge to Colombia, the Government of Peru nearly doubled its seizures of cocaine base to 18 metric tons, while tripling its seizures of coca leaf. The government expanded its program to eradicate seedbed to a few hectares of young coca in a national park. By years end, a total of 1,200 hectares had been eradicated. Peruvian authorities also arrested one of Peru's most sought-after drug barons, Willer "Champa" Alvarado Linares, after Ecuadorian authorities deported him from Ecuador to his native Peru. He joined other former drug lords Abelardo Cachique Rivera and Demitrio "Vaticano" Chavez Penaherrera in prison. Vaticano was sentenced to 25 years in prison in October 1996.

Central American governments maintained active interdiction programs in 1996. Panama, seized nearly eight metric tons of cocaine, thirty percent more than in the previous year. Panamanian authorities arrested an important member of the Cali Cartel, Jose Castrillon Henao. Panama's National Air Service, supported by USG aircraft, eradicated over 125 hectares of coca along Panama's border with Colombia. As in past years, these operations further underscored not only the feasibility but also the efficacy and environmental acceptability of aerial applied herbicides against coca.

Costa Rica and Honduras increased their anti-drug efforts in reaction to growing crack cocaine use. Working closely with USG authorities, Costa Rican police seized nearly two metric tons of cocaine. Cocaine seizures in Honduras increased nearly ten-fold (from 400 kilograms in 1995 to 3.275 metric tons in 1996.) Honduran authorities believe that most of this cocaine was intended for the US market.

In 1996, traffickers altered the smuggling patterns into Mexico, shifting from the use of large cargo aircraft to maritime cargo containers, private sea-going vessels, air drops to fast boats off the coasts, and light aircraft flights into southern Mexico. Mexican authorities seized 23.6 metric tons of cocaine in 1996, a slight increase over the 1995 figure. In 1996, for the first time Mexican authorities also reported finding and destroying a cocaine processing lab, another sign that Mexican organizations are continuing to usurp the power of the Colombian syndicates.

The USG added Aruba to its list of major drug transit countries in 1996. Because of its geographic location off the coast of Venezuela, Aruba serves as a major transshipment point for cocaine and heroin from Colombia, Venezuela, and Suriname to the US and Europe. Indications of significant increases in large-scale smuggling and trafficking, and slow progress on implementation of money laundering legislation and extending extradition to Aruban nationals, raised the level of US concerns. The USG was also concerned over credible reports that some members of the Aruban government met regularly with individuals associated with drug trafficking and money laundering syndicates. By the end of 1996, the Aruban parliament had enacted some measures to address money laundering and had begun considering bills to strengthen law enforcement measures against drug trafficking and money laundering.

The USG estimates that over 150 metric tons or more transit the Caribbean annually en route to the US. In 1996, there was substantial drug trafficking through the Eastern Caribbean gateways to US ports of entry in both the main island and Vieques island of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. The USG has designated Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands as a high intensity drug-trafficking area, and has provided special funding to combat the problem Large quantities of cocaine are regularly smuggled into Puerto Rico from the Lesser Antilles, which includes territories of the United Kingdom (UK), the Netherlands, and France. Because of British, Dutch and French links with the region, the Eastern Caribbean has become a transit route to Western Europe. British authorities believe that approximately 30 percent of the drugs brought into the UK come from or through the Caribbean.

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