The U.S Coast Guard announced this week that they have seized more cocaine on the Pacific high seas in the past ten months than in the past three years combined, a total of 32 metric tons of cocaine.
The Coast Guard offloaded the massive seizure on Monday, noting that only one of the Coast Guard’s security cutters was responsible for preventing 66,500 pounds of cocaine from reaching shore. The past four months, said Homeland Security Secretary Jeh C. Johnson, have been “a huge success” for maritime anti-drug operations.
Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft shared this sentiment with Secretary Johnson, adding that fighting drug trafficking was not merely a matter of keeping dangerous substances out of America, but of keeping the profits from those drugs from reaching violent enterprises and emboldening dangerous cartels. “The cultivation, trafficking and distribution of narcotics fuels violence and instability throughout the Western Hemisphere, leaving a path of destruction directly to the door step of the U.S.,” Admiral Zukunft said.
In addition to the quantity showcased on Monday, the Coast Guard boasted in July of the capture of a massive “narco-sub” navigating about 200 miles south of Mexico. The submarine was holding 16,000 pounds of cocaine. Only 12,000 were saved before the makeshift underwater vessel was sunk and ultimately destroyed. The agency released footage of the capture:
A major contributing factor to maritime trafficking of drugs is increased surveillance on the Mexican border. While these drugs–largely cocaine, but also heroin and methamphetamines–remanufactured not just in Mexico, but throughout Central and South America, they must pass through Mexico (or Mexican waters) to reach an American market. As early as 2013, when Border Patrol strengthened its anti-drug efforts on land, reports claimed a major uptick in attempts to smuggle drugs into the U.S. through the Pacific Ocean. Border Patrol announced in 2013 that they had experienced a 73 percent increase in smuggling via the Pacific in the past two years, and this number would eventually pale in comparison to those announced on Monday. They noted the rise in cocaine trafficking in the Pacific corresponded with a 66 percent drop in cocaine trafficking on land.
Among those named as prime suspects in organizing this traffic is the powerful Sinaloa Cartel of Mexico, whose leader, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, made international headlines in July by escaping from a maximum-security prison, his second successful prison escape. Fox News Latino notes that, while in prison, Guzmán saw his cartel expand from six to seven states and more deeply establish a foothold in the region’s cocaine trafficking.
While cocaine use has become increasingly unpopular in the United States in the past two decades–though marijuana use has soared–the legalization of marijuana in various states has made it more difficult for violent drug cartels to enter the market. The Washington Post reported in January that U.S. drug enforcement officials had seized 37 percent less marijuana on the Mexican border between 2011 and 2015, while seizures of cocaine and heroin have skyrocketed.
In addition to Mexican entities, one cocaine trafficking operation that has significantly worried American officials is the Cartel de los Soles of Venezuela, which many believe is run by Venezuela’s second-in-command, National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello. While Cabello has denied the accusation that he is a drug boss (and threatened to sue The Wall Street Journal for publishing the claim), reports assert that American authorities are, in fact, developing a case against Cabello and may charge him with criminal drug activity in the United States. It is feared some of the money from the drug trade was used in the last presidential campaign of current Venezuelan head of state Nicolás Maduro, and may have made its way to the Iranian-Lebanese Shia terrorist group Hezbollah.