Recent drug seizures and indictments indicate that Miami is back on the map as a trafficking hub for cocaine passing through Caribbean waters. After the fall of the Cali and Medellín drug cartels in Colombia, both the Florida Straits and the streets of south Florida quieted down dramatically.
Much of the criminal landscape and associated pop culture in the 1980s focused on Miami, Florida—the backdrop for the famous TV show Miami Vice and homicide epicenter as traffickers and dealers battled for control of the cocaine market.
VICE News reported that on the night of September 15, 2015, special agents from the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) were surveilling a shipyard on the Miami River where the cargo vessel Ana Cecilia had docked after returning from Haiti. According to a federal criminal complaint, an unidentified man unloaded two cardboard boxes into a vehicle driven by a Haitian-American man. Agents blocked the car, and although the driver fled, they found 136 kilograms of cocaine (worth almost $2 million on the street) inside the boxes. They also arrested Ernso Borgella, the captain and owner of the Ana Cecilia, who promptly confessed to knowing the drugs were on board.
Between March and September 2015, DHS agents intercepted more than 500 kilograms of cocaine combined on four container ships, including the Ana Cecilia, arriving at the Miami River from Haiti, according to Robert Hutchinson, acting special agent in charge of the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) office in Miami.
“There’s definitely been a surge and it appears to be on the rise through the Miami River,” Hutchinson told VICE. “It’s very hard to tell if we are just pushing the bubble from one area to another.”
Haiti has long fallen prey to dictators, many of whom have fomented political and economic instability in the decades since the island nation’s independence from France. Criminal organizations are very successful at exploitation nations like these, or others who have liberal trade policies, corrupt governments or police officials, or free trade zones. Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and the Bahamas are also waypoints frequently used by drug traffickers, although according to the White House’s Office of National Drug Policy, Haiti is towards the top of the list.
If Miami is indeed regaining its notoriety as a cocaine trafficking hub, any shifts in trafficking routes from Colombia through Mexico to Colombia through Miami may soon be felt along the southwest border. Mexican cartels started controlling much of the Colombian cocaine trade in the 1990s after the fall of the major Colombian cartels. However, cocaine isn’t produced in Mexico, and traffickers there must rely on South American nations to supply them with the expensive drug. If the Colombians start moving their shipments to Caribbean routes, Mexican smugglers will have to compensate for the market loss by focusing more heavily on trafficking marijuana, heroin, and methamphetamine.
The US market for cocaine is notoriously fickle, and both demand and street prices fluctuate annually without any real rhyme or reason. Mexican cartels are usually able to compensate for these changes and not sustain any major financial losses. Larger cartels like the Sinaloa Federation also have the cocaine market cornered in places like Europe and Australia, where one kilogram of cocaine can sell for six figures. Regardless, these kinds of market and route shifts don’t happen overnight, and a thorough analysis of cocaine seizures both along the southwest border and along the US East Coast will reveal what cartel logistical forces are at play.
Sylvia Longmire is a border security expert and Contributing Editor for Breitbart Texas. You can read more about cross-border issues in her latest book, Border Insecurity: Why Big Money, Fences, and Drones Aren’t Making Us Safer.