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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal

International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, 1999
Released by the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC, March 2000

Blue Bar

Continuation of Canada, Mexico, and Central America

 

MEXICO

I. Summary

Mexico faces a broad array of drug-related problems, from production and transshipment of illicit drugs to growing consumption. The drug issue remains at the top of the Zedillo Administration's priorities and has been designated as Mexico's principal national security threat. While the Government of Mexico's (GOM) counternarcotics (CN) effort made progress in 1999 against the production, traffic and abuse of illicit drugs, it still faces daunting challenges. The cartels which control the production and shipment of drugs, and related money laundering and organized crime activities, are powerful and well-organized and have made a concerted effort to corrupt and intimidate public officials responsible for combating them.

Mexico's national drug strategy stresses the need for a comprehensive, multi-faceted approach, including the importance of cooperation with other nations, particularly the United States. The results of Mexico's anti-drug effort in 1999 largely paralleled its 1998 performance. There was, however, a significant increase in cocaine seizures, largely as a result of improved maritime cooperation with the U.S. Aggressive eradication has reduced net cultivation of marijuana to a record low, and reduced the opium poppy crop to the second lowest level this decade. The GOM extradited two Mexican national drug fugitives to the U.S., including one who killed a U.S. Border Patrol agent in 1998. Although there were some successes in drug law enforcement cooperation with the U.S., the year saw limited developments in building corruption-resistant law enforcement institutions, including specialized "vetted units."

II. Status of Country

Mexico continued to be the principal transit route to the U.S. for up to 60 percent of the South American cocaine sold in the U.S. During 1999, there was a detected shift in smuggling activity from the Yucatan peninsula to the Pacific coast of Mexico. The eastern Pacific is ideal for air and maritime trafficking because of vast ocean areas and a lack of natural choke points. Multiple maritime events are estimated to occur there monthly using go-fast boats, fishing vessels and commercial carriers.

Drugs are smuggled into Mexico via every kind of commercial and non-commercial transportation means available, including smuggling across the land border with Guatemala; concealed shipments in air or containerized maritime cargo; smuggling by fishing vessels; flights to clandestine landing points; and air drops to go-fast boats off Mexican coasts. Once inside Mexico, illegal drugs are moved to northern border areas for stockpiling and entry into the U.S. They are then smuggled across the U.S. border in everything from containerized cargo, commercial trucks, rail cars, airplanes, automobiles and off-road vehicles to human "mules," including undocumented migrants and children, who backpack or strap the drugs to their bodies.

Mexico-based transnational criminal organizations have become the most significant distributors in the U.S. of methamphetamine and its precursor chemicals. Several bulk ephedrine seizures destined for Mexico have focused attention on the magnitude of ephedrine acquisition by Mexican organized crime groups. Mexico is also a transit point for the movement of potassium permanganate, used in the purification process for cocaine.

In addition, Mexico is a significant producer of some "designer" drugs, illicit steroids, and diverted pharmaceuticals, such as Valium and Rohypnol.

Although Mexico produces only about two percent of the world's opium, nearly all of its harvested illicit crop is converted into heroin and shipped to the western United States. USG estimates of opium drug crop production during the past three years show yields of some 4 to 6 metric tons of heroin annually.

During the past thee years, marijuana cultivation has yielded an estimated annual average of some 2,300 to 2,500 metric tons. In crop field surveys during the past two years, a more robust plant has been observed throughout Mexico. The plant grows to a height of two meters and has more flowering area. Mexican agronomists assess the plant as having more THC and, because of resin-coated foliage, is more resistant to herbicides. Most illicit drug crop cultivation occurs in small fields located on remote lands to evade detection and eradication. Since lands used for illicit cultivation are subject to seizure, many growers use public or communal lands to thwart tracing ownership.

Mexico's eradication program is one of the largest, most experienced and sophisticated in the world. The Army's considerable field presence in manual eradication operations relies on some 20,000 troops daily and more during peak seasons. These operations, combined with the Mexican Navy's eradication efforts in coastal areas, are responsible for about 75 percent of all eradication performed. The Office of the Attorney General (PGR) accomplishes the remainder by aerial spraying.

The GOM is fully aware of the threat posed to Mexico's security and democratic institutions by drug trafficking. President Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon has identified narcotics trafficking as Mexico's primary national security threat and called on Mexican federal and state prosecutors to attack official and police corruption aggressively. Drug trafficking organizations generate violence, corruption and other forms of crime. The GOM has responded by increasing its law enforcement budget, creating a new Federal Preventative Police (FPP), strengthening its laws and enhancing its cooperation with the U.S. and other countries. However, the GOM still lacks broad institutional capability to implement fully its anti-drug legislation and national drug strategy. While the GOM has intensified law enforcement actions against drug trafficking, it has not disrupted the activities of the major drug cartels. Chronic problems of corruption, weak police and criminal justice institutions, budget constraints, and severe poverty in rural areas where drug crops are cultivated hamper Mexico's ability to combat drug trafficking effectively.

In recent years, international money launderers have turned increasingly to Mexico for initial placement of drug proceeds into the global financial system. Measures enacted by Mexico in 1996 and 1997 have provided the legal framework for more effective control of money laundering. Initial court decisions, however, made convictions difficult as judges have ruled that a prior conviction on illegal enrichment or other underlying offenses is necessary to convict on money laundering. There has been only one conviction under the 1996 law. Recent legislation, which does not require prior conviction but rather the identification of a likely source of illegal proceeds that can be associated with a specified criminal act, may improve the GOM's ability to prosecute such cases. In August, legislation went into effect to strengthen asset forfeiture regulations and to allow Mexico to cooperate with other countries in international asset sharing.

III. Country Actions Against Drugs in 1999

Policy Initiatives. Mexico's national anti-drug strategy encompasses the full range of actions called for in the 1988 UN Drug Convention and highlights the importance of international cooperation, particularly with neighboring states. In February 1999, President Clinton and President Zedillo announced an agreement on measures to gauge bilateral progress toward the goals of the Binational Drug Strategy.

Also in February, President Zedillo announced a new national public security plan, with a budget of $500 million over the next four to five years. This plan included the establishment of a new Federal Preventative Police (FPP) to integrate the law enforcement responsibilities of several existing federal agencies and to focus on crime prevention and public security.

During Mexico's annual conference for its 32 state Attorneys General, 28 states agreed to form joint federal-state task forces to combat drug use and urban drug trafficking. These task forces will monitor the arrests made by state judicial police of persons carrying drugs for sale or consumption.

Amendments to the Mexican Constitution aimed at streamlining requirements for obtaining an arrest warrant and dismissing corrupt law enforcement agents went into effect in March 1999. In December 1999, President Zedillo proposed new legal reforms to create specialized courts with "faceless judges." This was in response to requests by the judiciary for protection when the courts are deciding cases of dangerous crimes such as narcotics trafficking. This proposal is part of an overall initiative to reform and accelerate the resolution of cases.

To strengthen its ability to detect financial crimes, the Secretariat of the Treasury (Hacienda) took steps to initiate automated filing of currency transaction reports by the banking community to Hacienda's Financial Intelligence Unit. The USG provided technical support for that initiative. The Mexican Congress passed legislation in April enabling Hacienda to take possession of and to distribute goods seized from organized crime and ordered forfeited by the courts. The GOM must still work out rules for distribution of these assets to entities within Mexico. The U.S. and Mexico are in the process of negotiating a reciprocal asset sharing agreement between the two governments.

Mexico became a Cooperating and Supporting Nation (COSUN) of the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) and was admitted as an observer to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in 1999. It is scheduled to undergo a mutual evaluation of its money laundering control regime by FATF in early 2000 as a step toward full membership.

Institutional Development. The PGR expanded and improved the capability of its law enforcement entities during 1999. To combat cross-border drug smuggling, the PGR purchased ten mobile x-ray machines for use in inspecting vehicles and cargo. Additionally, the PGR installed an x-ray machine at the Tijuana international airport and plans to purchase three more for installation in places with the heaviest traffic. The PGR initiated a major aviation upgrade program with the purchase of 27 helicopters, three for interdiction purposes and 24 for eradication.

The Mexican Secretariat of National Defense (SEDENA), which comprises the Army and the Air Force, and the Secretariat of the Navy rank counternarcotics operations as priority missions. In December 1998, SEDENA created a separate unit, the S-7, with its own budget, to be responsible for the military's direct support to Mexican law enforcement counter-drug elements. The Army created a special amphibious force (GANFES) in May to operate in remote and isolated coastal areas.

The Navy continued its fleet modernization program to enhance its ability to confront maritime drug trafficking. This upgrade included: production of medium-sized patrol boats with state-of-the-art electronics and intercept capability, conversion of two Knox class frigates for CN operations, and purchase of 20 speedboats for coastal and riverine patrolling.

Law Enforcement Efforts. Mexico's anti-drug enforcement actions included organized crime investigations, a pronounced increase in the amount of seized cocaine, an increase in marijuana eradication results, money laundering investigations (see money laundering annex), chemical diversion control (see chemical control annex), and air, land and maritime drug interdiction.

The PGR and military mounted an intensive operation against officials in the state of Quintana Roo, including the governor, Mario Villanueva, who was believed to be cooperating with the Carrillo Fuentes cartel. One of the major figures of the cartel was captured by Venezuelan authorities in February after escaping PGR custody, allegedly due to a bribe paid to prosecutors. Governor Villanueva disappeared in March, 10 days before the end of his term of office and immunity from prosecution, and is still at large.

The Mexican military continued its own counter-drug activities in 1999 with operations in the Yucatan, interdiction, and drug crop eradication. The Army and Navy engaged in cooperative efforts to seal off Mexico's large, isolated coastal areas from use by narcotics traffickers. The armed forces also play an important role in supporting PGR internal highway checkpoints.

Narcotics investigations were carried out by the PGR's Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Health (FEADS), the Organized Crime Unit (OCU), the Sensitive Investigations Unit (SIU), and the Bilateral Task Forces (BTF). In December, Mexico invited the U.S. to participate in a technical review of the operations of the OCU, SIU, and BTFs to identify ways to improve their operational effectiveness.

Arrests. In 1999, the GOM arrested some 10,464 individuals, including 203 foreigners and 10,261 Mexicans on drug-related charges. While the GOM arrested a number of mid-level traffickers in 1999, no principal member of a major drug trafficking organization was arrested. Notable arrests included:

Carlos Colin Padilla, mid-level money launderer for the Carillo Fuentes cartel;

Oscar Benjamin Garcia Davila, ex-federal judicial police agent who, in Quintana Roo, served as the liaison between former governor Villanueva and major drug transportation broker Alcides Ramon Magana;

Jaime Aguilar Gastelum, associated with elements of the Carillo Fuentes cartel and remnants of the Gulf cartel;

Guillermo Moreno Rios, Colombian associated with major Colombian trafficker Alejandro Bernal Madrigal;

Juan Jose Quintero Payan, one of the founders and former leaders of the Carillo Fuentes cartel;

Eduardo Salazar Carillo, ex Comandante of PJF, charged with drug trafficking and possession of arms;

Benjamin Garcia Gaxiola, low-level trafficker in Sonora, ex-PGR commandante, associate of Ramon Alcides Magana;

Antonio Mendoza Cruz, former aide to Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman (former head of Sinaloa cartel);

Alvaro Munoz Carrasco, brother in law Albino Quintero Meraz, major drug transportation broker for the Carillo Fuentes cartel.

Seizures.According to GOM statistics, Mexican law enforcement and military entities reported seized or destroyed:

33.5 metric tons of cocaine (48% increase over last year)

1459 metric tons of marijuana (37% increase)

258 kilograms of heroin (114% increase)

800 kilograms of opium gum (435% increase)

358 kilograms of methamphetamine (273% increase)

14 clandestine laboratories (100% increase).

During 1999, there were three multi-ton maritime seizures of cocaine due to successful joint efforts of the Mexican Navy, the PGR, the U.S. Department of Defense, and the U.S. Coast Guard. These efforts required close coordination and the use of sophisticated maritime navigation and communications techniques. Maritime seizures alone totaled over 24 metric tons.

Illicit Cultivation and Production. As a result of the GOM's aggressive eradication campaign, illicit cultivation in Mexico is characterized by small fields which are widely dispersed across a very large potential growing area. Mexican eradication, and to a lesser degree drought in early 1999, has reduced net cultivation of marijuana to a record low and reduced the opium poppy crop to a near-record low.

The GOM does not produce estimates of illegal drug crop cultivation. However U.S. experts estimate that Mexico's net opium drug crop production in 1999 was 43 metric tons (mt) of opium gum (compared to 60 mt in 1998 and 46 mt in 1997) and net marijuana cultivation was 6,700 metric tons of cannabis, (compared with 8,300 mt in 1998 and 8,600 mt in 1997). Marijuana production has declined steadily throughout the 1990s while opium poppy production, which had fluctuated roughly between 4,000 and 5,000 hectares of net cultivation, dropped to its second lowest level in the 1990s.

During 1999, the GOM eradicated some 15,470 hectares of opium poppy (down from 17,449 in 1998) and 33,583 hectares of cannabis (up from 23,928 in 1998). Extrapolating from those figures, U.S. experts estimate that the impact of these efforts resulted in the elimination of the potential production of 7,900 hectares of opium poppy and 19,400 hectares of marijuana. In 1998, eradication resulted in the elimination of 9,500 hectares each of both opium poppy and marijuana.

Extradition. The GOM extradited 14 fugitives to the U.S. in 1999, nine sought for narcotics-related offenses. Of those extradited, two were Mexican citizens: one, Tirzo Angel Robles, on drug charges and the other, Luis Arena Hernandez, on murder and drug charges. Robles had escaped from a U.S. prison in 1995 while serving a sentence for drug-related crimes and Arena Hernandez was being sought for the June 1998 killing of a U.S. Border Patrol agent while attempting to smuggle marijuana into the U.S.

Several important drug traffickers, including methamphetamine traffickers Jesus and Luis Amezcua, have been approved for extradition to the U.S. by the Secretariat of Foreign Relations (SRE), but are contesting the extraditions through the judicial appeals process on a variety of grounds, including the constitutional implications of a possible life sentence. Based on conflicting appeals court decisions in other extradition cases involving drug traffickers, the Mexican Supreme Court has agreed to rule on a perceived contradiction between the Mexican Penal Code and the U.S.-Mexico extradition treaty over whether Mexican citizens may be extradited "in exceptional cases" or must be tried in Mexico for crimes committed abroad. The Supreme Court decision, which is expected in early 2000, will profoundly affect Mexico's ability to effect extraditions abroad. An adverse decision would effectively prohibit the extradition of any Mexican citizen. Likewise, the life imprisonment issue, which is raised with greater frequency by fugitives, is troubling since most major fugitives whose extradition the U.S. seeks face criminal charges that carry possible life sentences.

At the end of 1999, there were approximately 40 persons in Mexican custody and subject to extradition proceedings based on U.S. provisional arrest warrants and extradition requests.

During 1999, the U.S. extradited 16 fugitives to Mexico, none sought for narcotics-related offenses and one of whom was a U.S. citizen.

Precursor Chemical Control. In September, Mexico published regulations that defined reporting and notification requirements for the import and export of precursor chemicals and authorized Mexican government entities to share information with other governments. Cooperative efforts to combat the diversion of chemicals occurred regularly in 1999 through working groups and training programs. In late 1999, Mexico joined "Operation Purple," a global DEA initiative to target the movement of potassium permanganate.

Demand Reduction. The GOM published the results of a national drug abuse survey in May 1999 which indicated that drug abuse in Mexico, particularly in communities along the U.S.-Mexican border, has increased. Survey data showed the following increases in 1998 as compared to 1993: individuals admitting to using drugs at least once, 3.9 percent to 5.27 percent; marijuana use, 3.32 percent to 4.7 percent; cocaine use, .22 percent to .36 percent; and heroin use, .07 percent to .09 percent. The study also concluded that most illegal drug users are young males although females are increasingly using drugs and age of initiation is earlier, now about 10 years old. The northwestern region of the country is experiencing a widespread increase in the use of heroin and methamphetamine.

Corruption. Corruption continues to be a very serious problem in Mexican law enforcement institutions and Attorney General Madrazo has taken aggressive measures at the federal level. In December 1999, he stated that since April 1997, more than 1400 of 3500 federal police officers had been fired for corruption and that 357 federal officers had been prosecuted. In announcing the establishment of the Federal Preventative Police (FPP), public officials acknowledged that corruption in existing police ranks was a major factor in the decision to create the new force.

The National Public Safety System has established a national police registry to prevent corrupt police officials from being hired by another law enforcement entity. Additionally, the organic law of the PGR was amended in July to formalize and expand the functions of its employee suitability review unit, the Confidence Control Center. Prior to this amendment, only employees of the federal counternarcotics agency (FEADS) and the PGR's Organized Crime Unit (OCU) were required to undergo background checks and polygraphs. The amendment extended this evaluation process to all federal prosecutors, police agents, experts and pilots assigned to narcotic eradication duties. Moreover, employees who are removed through due process after failing the screening, or who are found to be corrupt or incompetent, have no right to reinstatement, although under certain circumstances they may be compensated for their dismissal.

The Mexican military has also suffered from "narco-Corruption." In October, four Army personnel in Chihuahua were placed under arrest after the discovery that nearly seven kilos of cocaine - supposedly burned along with other seizures of marijuana and opium gum - turned out to be baking flour instead of cocaine. In August, two military officers of the Air Mobile Special Forces (GAFE) were arrested for allegedly offering protection to the late Amado Carrillo Fuentes.

A joint U.S.-Mexico initiative to create specially-vetted counternarcotics units insulated from corruption has not yet lived up to its potential. While the units are responsible for several of the accomplishments listed elsewhere in this report, failure to adhere to internal security principles has resulted in compromises or instances of corruption during 1999:

In February, a Special Investigative Unit officer was arrested in Coahuila for possession of 198 kg of marijuana, but became a fugitive after he walked out of a local police station.

In March, three BTF agents from Monterrey were arrested for alleged extortion. One was released for lack of evidence; the other two remain incarcerated.

In September 1999, a Mexico City judge found sufficient evidence to issue arrest warrants for eight FEADS agents on kidnapping charges, abuse of power, and violations of the organized crime law. Four had been vetted under U.S. standards and three had been trained by the U.S. but had never been assigned to a vetted unit.

In November 1999, a former member of the OCU, Mario Silva Calderon, was arrested for alleged links to the Carillo Fuentes Cartel, specifically to Alcides Ramon Magana.

The continuing revelations of corruption even within vetted units poses a serious challenge to Mexican law enforcement institutions and, derivatively, to bilateral counternarcotics cooperation.

Combating corruption is a long-term challenge that will require sustained effort at all levels of Mexican government and society. The GOM has recognized the problem and set into motion programs to deal with it. Cases have been identified, however, that indicate these programs have not been adequately implemented. For example, a senior law enforcement official removed from the OCU for allegations of corruption was recently reassigned to another high-level position. Mexico must continue to investigate all allegations of corruption and take strong action against personnel who have been compromised, both for the integrity of its institutions and the confidence of its international partners.

Agreements and Treaties. Mexico is a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention, the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs as amended by the 1972 Protocol, and the 1971 UN Convention On Psychotropic Substances. It also subscribes to regional drug commitments, including the 1996 Anti-Drug Strategy in the Hemisphere and 1990 Declaration of Ixtapa, which commits signatories to take strong action against drug trafficking, including controlling money laundering and chemical diversion. Mexico has bilateral narcotics accords with 32 countries.

Mexico and the U.S. are parties to numerous treaties and agreements relating to law enforcement cooperation, including a mutual legal assistance treaty (MLAT), signed in 1987 and entered into force in 1991; a 1995 executive agreement on asset sharing; and the Financial Information Exchange Agreement (FIEA). The 1998 Bi-National Drug Strategy and its accompanying Performance Measures of Effectiveness (PMEs) have provided guidelines for accomplishing the two nations' mutual goals of combating drug trafficking and organized crime. On February 15, 1999, President Clinton and President Zedillo signed in Merida a memorandum of understanding for procedures for cooperation between law enforcement agencies of the United States and Mexico. The Merida agreement was a follow-on to the "Brownsville Letter" of July 25, 1998 between Mexican Attorney General Madrazo and U.S. Attorney General Reno.

The U.S./Mexico extradition treaty has been in force since 1980. A U.S.-Mexico protocol to the extradition treaty permitting the temporary surrender for trial of fugitives who are serving a sentence in one country but also are wanted on criminal charges in the other was approved by the U.S. Senate in October 1998 and ratified by President Clinton in January 1999. The GOM has not yet submitted the protocol to the Mexican Congress for ratification.

Bilateral Cooperation. The U.S. and Mexico participate in a range of bilateral counternarcotics and law enforcement fora, including:

HLCG. The High-Level Contact Group on Drug Control (HLCG), led by Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Director Barry McCaffrey, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, Mexican Foreign Secretary Rosario Green, and Mexican Attorney General Jorge Madrazo met in June and November to report on progress made by the four HLCG working groups, to review action plans and goals, and to develop priorities for future cooperative action.

Senior Law Enforcement Plenary: The Senior Law Enforcement Plenary, a forum that facilitates communication and cooperation on a broad array of anti-drug and law enforcement issues, met in May in Mexico and again in October in Washington, D.C. The Plenary group established a new working group to advance mutual goals on the safety of foreign law enforcement agents serving in the other country.

Military to Military Cooperation. Under Secretary of Defense for Policy James Bodner visited Mexico in February to discuss cooperation on counternarcotics and other areas of mutual interest. General Juan Heriberto Salinas Altes, SEDENA Chief of Staff, reciprocated with a visit to Washington to continue the dialogue, and to prepare for a visit by Secretary of Defense Cervantes to the U.S. in January 2000.

Seventy-two UH-1H helicopters provided to SEDENA by the U.S. remained grounded, largely relating to worldwide safety-of-flight messages. After exploring possible repair options, SEDENA decided that it was not cost-effective to continue the UH-1H program and returned the aircraft to the U.S. SEDENA will, instead, purchase new aircraft for its fleet.

Money Laundering. The U.S. carries out more money laundering investigations with Mexico than with any other country and bilateral cooperation continued in 1999. Hacienda and the PGR processed 16 major simultaneous and four coordinated bilateral money laundering investigations in cooperation with USG agencies. A financial crimes working group, comprising Hacienda's Financial Intelligence Unit, the PGR's anti-money laundering unit, the U.S. Customs Service, and the Internal Revenue Service, was established in July to discuss cases of concern to both countries.

Maritime Interdiction. Cooperation between the Mexican Navy, the PGR, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Department of Defense resulted in three multi-ton maritime drug seizures. In June, the seizure of the Mexican flag vessel "Mazatlan IV" netted seven metric tons of cocaine. In August, the Mexican flag vessel "Xoloescuintle" was pursued by the U.S. Coast Guard and seized by the Mexican Navy in international waters; 9.5 metric tons of cocaine were found aboard, the second largest maritime cocaine seizure on record. In December, the Mexican fishing vessel, "Alfonso M.D. II" was seized by the Mexican Navy, with active participation by the U.S. Coast Guard; 8.1 metric tons of cocaine were found aboard.

Maritime interdiction is a new and significant area of cooperation between the U.S. and Mexico. In addition to the operations mentioned above, the U.S. contributed ion scan technical assistance for three dockside boardings of suspect vessels, and conducted a four-week counternarcotics boarding team training class for the Mexican Navy and Marine Corps. The PGR has also assigned a liaison officer to the U.S. Domestic Air Interdiction Center in Riverside, California, and is in the process of assigning a liaison officer to the U.S. Coast Guard's Joint Interagency Task Force-West in Alameda, California.

Demand Reduction. Mexico and the U.S. have made considerable progress in enhancing cooperation and communication in demand reduction. The bilateral working group on demand reduction met several times in 1999, and coordinated a bi-national drug conference in Tijuana in June, presided over by ONDCP Director McCaffrey and Mexican Health Secretary de la Fuente. The USG and the Mexican National Council Against Addictions (CONADIC) cooperated in disseminating the results of this conference.

Two USG-funded NGO projects in Mexico City helped university-aged youth and street children avoid drug addiction through education and job training. A Chihuahua-based, USG-funded NGO worked with indigenous communities to discourage drug cultivation and promote sustainable development in the Sierra Madre mountains.

Prosecutor Exchanges. The GOM and USG continued close cooperation on training for federal law enforcement personnel as well as on professional exchanges between prosecutors. As a follow-on to the U.S. Department of Justice's 1998 prosecutors' conference in South Carolina, the PGR hosted a similar conference in Mexico City in June 1999. Federal prosecutors from both countries exchanged information on organized crime, extradition and other subjects of mutual interest.

Judicial Exchanges. The U.S.-Mexico Judicial Exchange Program, coordinated by a binational committee of judges, has helped to increase communication and mutual understanding among the judiciaries of the two nations. Over 500 Mexican judges have participated in USG-sponsored conferences, seminars, training courses and graduate programs in the past two years. The president of the Mexican Supreme Court and representatives of Mexico's National University's Institute for Juridical Research visited Washington in November to discuss ways to strengthen the program and better respond to the interests and concerns of the participating Mexican and U.S. judges. The National Center for State Courts (NCSC), the Federal Judicial Center and the World Bank have all been invited to offer technical advice on justice reform priorities for federal and state courts.

Law Enforcement Cooperation. In late November, the U.S. and Mexico began an unprecedented bilateral effort to locate the bodies of Mexican and U.S. victims of drug-related killings believed to be buried near Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The effort involved excavations at four locations; nine bodies had been recovered by the end of 1999. In the face of criticism concerning infringement of sovereignty, Attorney General Madrazo showed strong support for the operation.

With the Mexican Vetted Unit Program entering its third year, it was mutually recognized that the program had not achieved the level of effectiveness originally envisioned. As a result, a comprehensive bilateral survey of the program was conducted to identify its needs, strengths, and weaknesses.

Eradication and Production. Cooperation between GOM and U.S. entities involved in eradication and assessment of drug crop production has been excellent. The two governments held frequent exchanges of information regarding new types of drug crops resistant to herbicides and eradication operations. In December 1999, five PGR officials visited the U.S. Department of Agriculture to study opium yield analysis methods. This was the first phase of a bilateral effort by a team of agronomists, biologists, and crop production experts to undertake a complete analysis of the poppy currently under cultivation in Mexico and to analyze its opium gum yield.

IV. U.S. Policy Initiatives and Programs

As neighboring states facing a common criminal threat, each country's anti-drug efforts are directly affected by the policies and efforts of the other. Therefore, both countries have sought, through bilateral fora such as the HLCG and Senior Law Enforcement Plenary, and through the Bi-National Drug Strategy, to construct complementary programs and policies. U.S. narcotics control policy for Mexico is aimed at supporting the political commitment and strengthening institutional capability of the GOM to take effective measures against the production and trafficking of illicit drugs and related crimes. The USG seeks to work collaboratively with Mexico to apprehend and prosecute the leaders of the transnational criminal organizations, to disrupt or dismantle cartel operations, to combat money laundering and precursor chemicals diversion, and to reduce the demand for drugs.

Cooperative initiatives along our common border are a priority for both nations. In addition, the U.S. seeks to support the GOM's efforts to strengthen institutions, to improve training for its personnel, to modernize the justice sector, and to promote anti-corruption reforms. Critical to this success is the identification and prosecution of corrupt law enforcement, military, political, and business leaders who protect traffickers.

The Road Ahead. Mexico and the U.S. will continue to cooperate against narcotics activities in all its forms, including drug abuse, trafficking and production. The effectiveness of national and bilateral efforts against drug crimes will depend largely on demonstrable progress in disrupting and dismantling transnational narcotics trafficking organizations. This includes apprehending, prosecuting and convicting major drug traffickers, and exposing and prosecuting individuals and businesses involved in providing critical support networks such as money laundering and front companies, security, transportation, and warehousing.

Continued measurable progress in reducing the production of illicit drugs and the flow of such drugs through Mexico into the U.S. has long been a shared USG-GOM objective. Programs to exchange information or experiences in specialized areas as well as to find ways to improve both countries' eradication programs will contribute to such progress.

New asset seizure and forfeiture legislation has provided an important potential source of funding for law enforcement, courtroom modernization, drug treatment and education, and alternative development. Increased cooperation on post-seizure and post-arrest analysis would enhance investigations against major trafficking organizations. The president of the Mexican Supreme Court and President Zedillo have agreed that reforms to the cumbersome appeals process should be a key priority in the 2000 legislative session. If passed, such reforms could shorten the appeals process and speed the extradition of criminals.

An agreement to revive the bilateral polygraph process to permit screening of officials to serve in specialized units would enhance information sharing and Bilateral Cooperation. Practical issues need to be addressed such as ensuring the specialized units are fully staffed, funded, equipped and maintain the highest levels of professionalism.

Security for both Mexican and U.S. personnel is of paramount importance. The significance of this issue was illustrated in recent events in which drug traffickers assaulted U.S. government agents in Mexico. Continued efforts on both sides of the border should be made to ensure the safety of USG agents in Mexico.

Mexico is still relatively open to money laundering and chemical diversion, and corruption of public officials remains a serious problem. The USG will continue to offer technical support to Mexico in developing and strengthening its counternarcotics institutions. Despite increased GOM support to law enforcement, better equipment, more and better trained personnel, and improved salaries and benefits are still needed to bring law enforcement units to full operating efficiency.

Extradition is one of the most powerful tools that can be used against international organized crime, and the U.S. looks to the GOM for expanded use of the "exceptional circumstances" provision of its extradition law to ensure that drug fugitives facing charges in the U.S. can be brought to justice. We are encouraged by the GOM's efforts to appeal judicial decisions which undermine its ability to follow through on extradition orders and the delivery of fugitives for prosecution in the U.S. Nevertheless, a negative Supreme Court decision could nullify the positive advances made during the Zedillo Administration. Legislative or other remedies would then be required to preserve Mexico's ability to effect extraditions.

The two countries have made progress in initiating or implementing the following elements of the common strategy for cooperative action against illicit drugs. Mexico and the U.S. in 2000 will seek to:

Reduce the demand for illicit drugs in both countries through intensification of anti-drug information and education;

Improve our respective capacities to disrupt drug shipments by land, air and sea;

Focus law enforcement efforts against criminal organizations and those who facilitate their operations;

Strengthen U.S./Mexican law enforcement cooperation and policy coordination, especially through the vetted unit program;

Ensure that fugitives are brought to justice expeditiously and with due legal process;

Implement mechanisms to ensure appropriate status and physical protections for USG law enforcement personnel in Mexico;

Increase the abilities of our democratic institutions to attack the corrupting influence of the illegal drug trade;

Control essential and precursor chemicals and pharmaceutical drugs to prevent their diversion and illicit use;

Enforce existing laws more effectively, including the use of criminal tax evasion statues, to detect and penalize money laundering;

Seize and forfeit the proceeds of drug trafficking, and direct them to drug prevention and law enforcement;

Continue training and technical cooperation programs; and

Improve information exchange and coordination of CN activities.

Mexico Statistics

(1991-1999)
 

1999

1998

1997

1996

1995

1994

1993

1992

1991

Opium

                 

Potential Harvest (ha)

3,600

5,500

4,000

5,100

5,050

5,795

3,960

3,310

3,765

USG Estimated Impact(1) (ha)

7,900

9,500

8,000

7,900

8,450

6,620

7,820

6,860

6,545

Eradication (ha)

15,469

17,449

17,732

14,671

15,389

11,036

13,015

11,583

-

Cultivation (ha)

11,500

15,000

12,000

13,000

13,500

12,415

11,780

10,170

10,310

Potential Yield (mt)

43

60

46

54

53

60

49

40

41

Cannabis

                 

Potential Harvest (ha)

3,700

4,600

4,800

6,500

6,900

10,550

11,220

16,420

17,915

USG Estimated Impact(1) (ha)

19,400

9,500

10,500

12,200

11,750

8,495

9,970

12,100

10,795

Eradication (ha)

33,583

23,928

23,576

22,961

21,573

14,227

16,645

16,872

Cultivation (ha)

23,100

14,100

15,300

18,700

18,650

19,045

21,190

28,520

28,710

Potential Yield(2) (mt)

6,700

8,300

8,600

11,700

12,400

5,908

6,283

7,795

7,775

Seizures

                 

Opium (mt)

0.80

0.15

0.34

0.22

0.22

0.15

0.13

0.17

0.10

Heroin (mt)

0.258

0.120

0.115

0.363

0.203

0.297

0.062

0.097

0.15

Cocaine (mt)

33.5

22.6

34.9

23.6

22.2

22.1

46.2

38.8

50.3

Cannabis (mt)

1,459

1,062

1,038

1,015

780

528

495

405

254.9

Methamphetamine (mt)

0.358

0.096

0.039

0.172

0.496

0.265

-

-

-

Arrests

                 

Nationals(3)

10,261

10,034

10,572

11,038

9,728

6,860

17,551

27,369

8,621

Foreigners

203

255

170

207

173

146

75

208

141

Total Arrests

10,464

10,289

10,742

11,245

9,901

7,006

17,626

27,577

8,762

Labs Destroyed

 

7

8

19

19

9

5

4

9

(1)The eradication figures shown are derived from data supplied by Mexican authorities. The effective eradication figure is an estimate of the actual amount of a crop destroyed-factoring in replanting, repeated spraying of one area, and other factors.
(2)Cannabis potential yield figures for previous years have been revised based upon refinements in cannabis yield methodology.
(3)In 1995, the PGR revised downward the 1994 national detainees figure from 14,968 to 6,860

 

NICARAGUA

I. Summary

Nicaragua is a transshipment country for drugs from South America to the U.S. For this reason, Nicaragua remains a country of concern to the U.S. The country continues to have a consumption problem, especially in the Atlantic Coast region. President Arnoldo Aleman is committed to confronting the international narcotics trade. The Nicaraguan National Police's efforts to combat trafficking have generally been effective, although these efforts are constrained by resource shortfalls. Important legal reforms were implemented in 1999, and the judicial system demonstrated more willingness to convict traffickers. During 1999, the USG provided significant assistance to the Police's counternarcotics efforts. Nicaragua is party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention.

II. Status of Country

The Nicaraguan National Police continues to be a highly capable law enforcement organization, but its effectiveness is limited by severe resource constraints. Consumption of illegal drugs (especially crack cocaine) is a serious and growing problem, especially on the Atlantic Coast. Although the police are principally responsible for law enforcement, the army, which includes a naval unit, also supports Law Enforcement Efforts.

Policy Initiatives. In 1998, the National Assembly approved legislation to strengthen Nicaragua's counternarcotics efforts. That law went into effect in April 1999. The law increased penalties for drug trafficking, eliminated bail for trafficking offenses, and criminalized drug-related money laundering. Although the number of convictions increased in 1999, corruption and an antiquated legal system makes it difficult to keep prisoners incarcerated.

The GON, with USG assistance, continued efforts to reform the judicial system. The organic law of the judiciary, which established the foundation for a reformed court system, went into effect in January. The new criminal code was drafted and approved by the National Assembly's Justice Commission. It was presented to the Assembly for approval in mid- December. The criminal procedures code, dating from the 1800's and in clear need of replacement, was drafted and is under review by the Justice Commission. Building a more effective criminal justice system is the best way to increase the prospects that traffickers arrested in Nicaragua will receive appropriate punishment for their crimes.

Law Enforcement Efforts. Nicaraguan authorities seized 1,100 kilos of cocaine, two kilograms of heroin, 317,639 marijuana plants, and 10,568 crack stones during 1999. They also eradicated 308,200 marijuana plants and arrested 459 persons on drug-related charges. The biggest obstacle to police interdiction efforts is a severe lack of resources. The Narcotics Unit has only 96 officers, including administrative support. Despite this impediment, the GON added an additional 20 people to the anti-drug unit.

Corruption. The GON is working toward establishing an anti-corruption task force, to be composed of representatives from key agencies. The GON is also in the process of developing a national integrity plan geared toward greater transparency and governability. The plan will call for a civil service law to professionalize government employees. Police efforts to resist corruption are complicated by the fact that the police have the lowest salaries in Central America-an entry-level police officer makes less than $80 a month. A growing phenomenon in Nicaragua is the increasing misuse of medical parole, where convicted individuals with significant resources are buying their freedom under the guise of medical ailments.

Agreements and Treaties. Nicaragua is a party to the 1961 UN Single Convention, the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances and the 1988 UN Drug Convention. A U.S./Nicaragua extradition treaty has been in effect since 1907; however, the Nicaraguan constitution prohibits extradition of Nicaraguan nationals. The GON reiterated its desire to re-open negotiations on a bilateral counternarcotics maritime agreement. Nicaragua is a member of CFATF.

Cultivation/Production. Marijuana is the only illegal drug known to be cultivated in Nicaragua. Police believe it is grown principally for local consumption. During 1999, eradication continued, but limited police resources were more focused on halting cocaine transshipment than on eliminating the local marijuana industry.

Drug Flow/Transit. Nicaragua remains a country of concern because of its potential, due to its location, to become a major drug-transit country. Traffickers use several routes through Nicaraguan territory. The area of the country most vulnerable to drug trafficking is the sparsely populated, isolated Atlantic Coast. Packets of cocaine frequently wash ashore, suggesting the cocaine was not destined for Nicaragua. Some Atlantic Coast residents support the traffickers by refueling trafficker vessels and by storing drugs. Drug trafficking appears to be the principal economic activity in several coastal communities. Seizures and other information indicate that drugs move north through Nicaragua along the Pan American highway. Maritime trafficking also occurs on the Pacific Coast.

Domestic Programs. Drug consumption in Nicaragua appears to be growing, especially crack cocaine usage on the Atlantic Coast. The Ministries of Education and Health, the police, and the Nicaraguan Fund for Children and Family (FONIF) undertake demand reduction campaigns within the parameters of their limited budgets. International donors, including the U.S., have also supported demand reduction efforts. The principal barriers to reducing narcotics demand on the Atlantic Coast is the lack of economic alternatives for those who would distribute the drugs, the endemic 60-70 percent unemployment, and a woefully insufficient number of law enforcement personnel.

III. U.S. Policy Initiatives and Programs

Bilateral Cooperation. The U.S. and Nicaragua have a good bilateral counternarcotics relationship. Relations between the U.S. and the Nicaraguan police, an entity established by the Sandinistas, had long been complicated by the politicization of Nicaraguan law enforcement. Over the past few years, however, the police have made great strides toward the professionalization of their institution as an effective and clearly apolitical entity. Relations between the police and the Managua DEA country office, established in 1997 at Nicaragua's request, are excellent. During 1999, the USG continued to provide significant anti-narcotics and law enforcement assistance to the National Police. The Department of Justice's International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP) provided assistance aimed at strengthening and restructuring the overall investigative division. The USG provided additional assistance to Nicaragua in the wake of Hurricane Mitch, which devastated law enforcement resources as well as elements of civil society. The emergency supplemental funding was directed toward strengthening anti-corruption, anti-alien smuggling and land freight drug trafficking interdiction capabilities.

The Road Ahead. The United States seeks to improve GON law enforcement capabilities to deter drug traffickers and other transnational criminals from using its territory as a transit route to the U.S. The U.S. concentrates its efforts on strengthening accountable democratic institutions. The U.S. encourages reform of the justice system that will lead to a more transparent and effective system. The USG will cooperate with the GON to re-open negotiations on a bilateral maritime agreement in order to facilitate joint operations and interdiction efforts in the region. The U.S. endorses the GON's efforts to criminalize drug-related money laundering and encourages further developments to deter the use of Nicaragua's financial institutions for illicit purposes. The U.S. strongly supports and will encourage the Nicaraguans to support the expansion of regional counternarcotics cooperation.

PANAMA

I. Summary

The government of Panama (GOP) continues to demonstrate its willingness to combat transnational drug trafficking. The GOP seized significant amounts of illicit drugs in 1999, despite apparent changes in trafficking routes. The new Mireya Moscoso Administration has demonstrated its commitment to combat money laundering, corruption, drug trafficking, and other transnational crimes. Immediately after taking office, the new Administration set up an anti-corruption unit in the Ministry of Economy and Finance. Talks on a full maritime agreement moved forward. A draft agreement is under review by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Panama's law enforcement agencies continue to maintain excellent relations with their U.S. counterparts. Panama is a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention.

Panama is a major transshipment point for illicit drugs smuggled from Colombia. Cocaine is stockpiled in Panama prior to being repackaged for passage to the U.S. and Europe. Panama's location, largely unpatrolled coastlines, advanced infrastructure, underdeveloped judicial system, and well-developed financial services sector make it a crossroads for transnational crime, such as drug trafficking, money laundering, illicit arms sales and alien smuggling. Panama's Canal, containerized seaports, the Pan-American Highway, an active international airport, and numerous uncontrolled airfields provide organized crime groups almost unlimited transportation options through the country.

Panama's international banking center, a long established tax haven, combined with the Colon Free Zone (CFZ ) and a U.S. dollar-based economy render Panama vulnerable to money laundering. Panama hosted the "Third Hemispheric Congress on the Prevention of Money Laundering" in August 1999. The new Administration has expressed its interest in improving money-laundering controls and cooperating in these efforts with the U.S. and other countries in the region.

II. Status of Country

Panama continued to be a major drug transit country because of its proximity to the world's largest cocaine producer and because of its inadequate border, airport, and maritime controls. Domestic drug abuse continues to increase. Panama is not a significant producer of drugs or precursor chemicals. Panama's large and sophisticated banking and trading center, its dollar-based economy, and proximity to Colombia, make it an attractive site for money laundering, especially through the Colombian Black Market Peso Exchange (BMPE). The BMPE is a complex network dedicated to changing U.S. dollars into Colombian pesos and is used by drug traffickers and smugglers, as well as by legitimate industry attempting to avoid trade tariffs. The new Moscoso Administration has expressed interest in bolstering Panama's anti-money laundering measures (See Money Laundering Section). Panama is a member of the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF).

III. Country Actions Against Drugs in 1999

Policy Initiatives. CONAPRED, Panama's national drug policy office, took a major step forward in 1999 through active efforts to establish a national chemical control policy. The initiative seeks to integrate government entities regulating chemical control with private sector businesses involved in the chemical industry and transportation of precursor chemicals.

Accomplishments. Panama continued to implement its own national counternarcotics plan, the "National Drug Strategy -1996-2001," through CONAPRED. This program, under the authority of the Attorney General, coordinates GOP and non-governmental organization (NGO) work and stresses prevention, treatment, rehabilitation, control of supply, and interdiction. Panama also made significant progress in implementing its comprehensive chemical control program. In August, Panama hosted the "Third Hemispheric Congress on the Prevention of Money Laundering," organized by the GOP's Financial Analysis Unit (UAF) and the Panama Banking Association. Officials and experts from Latin America, the U.S. and Europe gathered to focus on money laundering issues.

Law Enforcement Efforts. GOP agencies seized 2,576 kilograms (kgs) of cocaine, 1,558 kilos of marijuana, 46 kilos of heroin, 600 liters of acetic anhydride, and made 131 arrests for international drug-related offenses in 1999. Although 1999 cocaine seizures declined from record 1997-98 seizures, decreased seizures were due to changes in drug trafficking patterns rather than change in flow. Heroin seizures continued to increase, further establishing Panama as a principal link in the chain that funnels Colombian heroin to the U.S.

In January 1999, the National Assembly passed a law changing authority to designate and dismiss Technical Judicial Police (PTJ) executives from the Attorney General to the Supreme Court. The transfer led to confrontation between the two organizations that resulted in a serious deterioration in law enforcement cooperation to the extent that meaningful investigations, police work, and ultimately, successful prosecutions have been negatively affected. Nevertheless, U.S.-Panama bilateral cooperation with the PTJ's counternarcotics squad, which is co-housed with the Public Ministry's drug prosecutor, continues to be excellent.

The National Maritime Service (SMN ) has been Panama's interdiction success story. In 1999, the SMN conducted operations resulting in seizures of 453 kilos of cocaine and over 600 liters of acetic anhydride. The SMN seized several go-fast boats that were subsequently provided by the Attorney General to be utilized as SMN patrol craft. The SMN has a strong working relationship with the National Air Service (SAN), the Panamanian National Police (PNP), the PTJ, and the drug prosecutor's office and with their USG counterparts. The key to the SMN's strength is its leadership, both within the institution and as a lead agency in counternarcotics operations and seizures. SMN participation in high seas operations led to the seizure of 27 Mt. of cocaine from Panamanian flagged vessels outside of Panamanian territorial waters. The presence of U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) personnel to train and assist in joint mission planning and professional exchanges that are conducted during joint operations has been invaluable.

Despite limited air assets and internal structural problems, the SAN conducted two cannabis eradication operations in coordination with the Attorney General's drug prosecutor's office and provided excellent logistical support for USCG air assets.

The Direccion de Fiscalia Aduanal (DFA), the Customs branch responsible for interdiction efforts at seaports and international airports, seized multi-kilo shipments along the Costa Rican border and at Tocumen international airport. During 1999, DFA personnel assigned to Tocumen successfully seized in excess of two million dollars in U.S. currency concealed within airfreight. DFA was also responsible for a number of heroin seizures and for increasing coordination and cooperation with the PTJ, leading to all-around better drug enforcement.

Precursor Chemicals. Panama is not a major producer or significant consumer of chemicals used in processing illegal drugs. However, a large volume of chemicals transits the CFZ for other countries. This year, with the assistance of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD), Panama took significant steps toward developing a regulatory/enforcement infrastructure to control the use and shipment of precursor chemicals.

Asset Forfeiture. The Panamanian legal system provides for asset forfeiture, including a system for identifying and forfeiting narcotics-related assets. Forfeiture actions have supplemented the PTJ, the PNP and other GOP law enforcement agencies with numerous vehicles. Although Panama has not enacted a specific law that provides for sharing seized narcotics assets with other governments, the GOP shares assets with other countries on a case-by-case basis. Current negotiations between the United States Attorney's office and the office of Panama's Attorney General to permit asset sharing in the multi-million dollar Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha case exemplify this cooperation.

Money Laundering. Although cooperation between the U.S. and Panama on money laundering improved with the new Administration, the pursuit of money laundering cases remains constrained by laws requiring prosecutors to present an unusually high burden of proof and to meet extremely difficult evidentiary standards. (See money laundering section).

Corruption. The Moscoso Administration took office in September 1999 with a publicly-stated commitment to integrity and transparency. A presidential decree established a National Anti-Corruption Office in the Ministry of Economy and Finance. In 2000, the anti-corruption office is expected to propose legislation to define ethical conduct by government employees and specific sanctions for those breaking the law.

The GOP pursues those who produce, distribute, or traffic in narcotics and/or other controlled substances. However, outdated procedures and corruption undermine Panama's judicial system. Lack of prosecutions coupled with relatively low pay for law enforcement officers and insufficient resources negatively affects police morale. These factors inherently foster individual corruption and make it challenging to develop long-term, criminal investigations against top-echelon drug and money laundering violators. The new president of the Supreme Court is committed to making the judicial system more effective and transparent.

Agreements and Treaties. Panama is a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention, the 1961 UN Single Convention and its 1972 Protocol, and the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances. A mutual legal assistance treaty and an extradition treaty are in force between the U.S. and Panama. The Panamanian constitution, does not permit the extradition of Panamanian nationals. In 1991, the USG and the GOP signed a maritime operations agreement, which included provisions for shipriders and USCG support and assistance to the SMN. The USG concluded a Customs Mutual Assistance Agreement (CMAA) with the GOP in 1999. The GOP participates in CICAD, the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF), and the Basle Committees' Offshore Group of Bank Supervisors (OGBS). In addition, Panama has bilateral agreements on drug trafficking with the United Kingdom, Colombia, Mexico, Cuba, and Peru and MLATs with the UK, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. In 1997, Panama became the first Latin American country to join the Egmont group, an alliance of some 30 nations with centralized financial analysis units to combat money laundering.

The GOP has not signed a US-Panama bilateral comprehensive maritime counternarcotics treaty, although a draft agreement is currently under review by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Discussions with the new Administration on the text will continue in 2000.

Cultivation and Production. In 1996, the entire coca cultivation in the traditional growing areas of the eastern Darien region along the Colombian border was eradicated. Aerial reconnaissance confirms that the cultivators have not replanted any fields. The limited amounts of marijuana being cultivated supply the local market and are insufficient for export. The presence of significant quantities of Colombian heroin transiting Panama during 1999 indicates that South American drug organizations remain committed to increasing their share of the highly profitable heroin market.

Drug Flow and Transit. Panama is a key hub for the transit and distribution of South American cocaine and increasingly, precursor chemicals and heroin. Fishing vessels, cargo ships and "go-fast" boats transit Panamanian waters and either continue on to other Central American countries or drop off their cargo in Panama. Shipments dropped off in Panama are repackaged and moved northward on the Pan-American Highway or depart in sea freight containers. There were reports of small, low-flying planes entering Panamanian airspace and dropping drug loads in remote, sparsely populated areas. Cocaine and heroin are also moved to the U.S. and Europe by couriers transiting Panama by commercial air flights.

Domestic Programs (Demand Reduction). Drug abuse continues to plague Panama, with use of cocaine and its derivatives reaching ever-higher levels. About 20 percent of seizures in 1999 consisted of drugs destined for Panamanian consumption. Several years ago, Colombian trafficking organizations began giving their Panamanian associates cocaine as payment rather than cash. In order for the Panamanian middlemen to convert the cocaine to cash, it had to be distributed locally. This change was the genesis of Panama's current cocaine/crack epidemic. Crack or "bazuco" is sold to urban youth and Kuna Indians, whose home, the San Blas autonomous region, has emerged as a major drug airdrop center. Kuna leaders have expressed concern over the impact of the drug trade on their society. GOP officials fear that the increase of heroin trafficking will give rise to a serious heroin abuse problem.

Panama continued to vigorously implement CONAPRED's counternarcotics plan developed under the auspices of the Attorney General's National Drug Strategy. The demand reduction portion of the strategy stresses prevention, as well as treatment, rehabilitation and reinsertion of drug users into the labor force. The Ministry of Education and CONAPRED promote demand reduction through training for teachers, information programs, anti-drug abuse training for youth, school curriculum programs and support for the National Drug Information Center (CENAID). These efforts are integrated with the Ministry of Health's treatment and rehabilitation programs and those of the Catholic church, Panamanian NGO "Cruz Blanca (White Cross)," the University of Panama, the "Panama Coalition For A Drug- Free Community," and the "Pride Foundation." One weakness in GOP drug treatment programs is that there are no long-term rehabilitation programs outside of the major urban centers.

IV. U.S.Policy Initiatives and Programs

Program agreements between the U.S. and Panama provide crucial equipment, training, and information to enhance the performance of GOP counternarcotics institutions. The key objectives of these programs are to improve Panama's prosecutorial and investigative capabilities, strengthen Panama's judicial system, encourage the enactment of more effective laws and regulations covering counternarcotics, money laundering and corruption, and ensure strict enforcement of existing Panamanian laws. The U.S., through USAID and ICITAP, is assisting the GOP to develop a comprehensive Administration of Justice (AOJ) program to strengthen law enforcement and judicial institutions and procedures.

During 1999, the U.S. Coast Guard continued to work closely with the SMN, enhancing its effectiveness as a maritime interdiction force. In 1999, the U.S. provided the SMN with two 82-foot Point class Coast Guard patrol boats and helped the GOP to establish an SMN station on the Caribbean mouth of the Panama Canal. The U.S. has traditionally had an excellent relationship with Panamanian Customs and U.S. programs have provided Panamanian Customs with training and operational tools.

Other U.S. projects in 1999 supported the Ministry of Education's teacher training for demand reduction programs and joint counternarcotics operations between DEA, Customs and the Coast Guard and their Panamanian counterparts in PTJ, Customs, and the SMN. The USG provided training, equipment, and operational support to the PTJ, the PNP, CONAPRED, the Joint Intelligence Coordination Center (JICC), the office of the drug prosecutor, Customs and Immigration. The Embassy has also purchased an ion scanner machine for the use of Panama's law enforcement community and is working with the PTJ forensics laboratory to examine upgrading its equipment. The U.S. continued to fund and develop Panama's JICC, including upgrading software and training for the JICCs employees and providing precursor chemical control training.

Bilateral Cooperation. The new Administration has demonstrated its political will to increase joint counternarcotics efforts and strengthen national law enforcement institutions. The GOP cooperates with U.S. requests to board and search Panamanian-flagged vessels suspected of drug smuggling in international waters. In 1999, U.S. and Panama carried out four joint operations. The PTJ and the PNP, with support from the U.S. Immigration Service, U.S. Customs and DEA, executed three major joint interdiction operations along the Costa Rican border against alien smuggling and drug trafficking.

The Moscoso Administration requested U.S. assistance in developing Panama's law enforcement/national security strategy. The U.S. and Panama held the first bilateral meeting of the new Administration in November 1999 to address U.S. support for strategy development. The U.S. and Panama discussed an array of issues in the context of four working groups: society and the environment, law enforcement, trade, and security. The Law Enforcement Working Group exchanged information and presented recommendations on counternarcotics, extradition, asset forfeiture, justice reform, alien smuggling, and money laundering. These meetings demonstrated the new Administration's determination to build successful law enforcement and justice institutions and enhance Bilateral Cooperation.

The GOP pursued major drug kingpins. Pierre Janeiro Barbe was implicated as the principal transporter/owner of over 5 mt of cocaine seized from two ships. Concluding a thirteen-month investigation in October 1999 by the Panama drug prosecutor's office, PTJ and DEA, the GOP executed arrest, search, and seizure warrants. While Barbe remains at large, he has been declared a fugitive from Panamanian justice and his assets have been seized.

The Panamanian drug prosecutor's office participated in a bilateral investigation to target a Panamanian export company involved in the seizure of 432 kgs of cocaine in June 1999 in New York and obtained evidence in the U.S. case for prosecution in Panama. The drug prosecutor authorized the initial arrest of individuals in Panama believed to be integral members of the cocaine distribution network.

Road Ahead. The Moscoso Administration has demonstrated willingness to build strong law enforcement institutions, combat money laundering, and ensure security of the canal. The GOP has repeatedly noted its interest in maintaining the security of the Darien region from infiltration by Colombian "narco-guerillas." The U.S. and Panama will continue to cooperate in these areas and strengthen joint counternarcotics efforts. Conclusion of a bilateral maritime agreement will greatly facilitate joint cooperation.

Panama's law enforcement efforts would be enhanced through closer coordination between its law enforcement agencies and with U.S. counterparts. The U.S. will work with the GOP to help strengthen Panama's law enforcement institutional capacity, particularly in training, interdiction, investigation and prosecution. The U.S. will support anti-corruption efforts and criminal justice reform. Panama's anti-money laundering efforts would be strengthened through implementation of banking reforms. A major goal will be to seek enactment of legislation to widen the existing law against drug money laundering to include the proceeds from all serious crimes, and to permit the UAF to share information with domestic and international counterparts.

The USG will continue to work with the Ministries of Health and Education and NGOs to expand Panama's demand reduction program. While realizing that the GOP has budgetary limits, the USG will encourage the GOP to seek new sources of funds, such as those available through effective money laundering prosecutions and asset forfeiture, to provide sufficient resources to law enforcement agencies.

Panama Statistics

(1991-1999)
 

1999

1998

1997

1996

1995

1994

1993

1992

1991

Coca

                 

Net Cultivation (ha)

 

-

0

0

0

10

10

-

-

Eradication (ha)

-

-

0

125

110

90

60

-

-

Cultivation (ha)

   

0

125

110

100

70

-

-

Seizures

                 

Cocaine (mt)

2.58

1.00

9.96

8.60

5.89

8.60

5.68

9.80

9.30

Cannabis (mt)

1.56

10.47

13.82

18.12

0.06

0.01

32.5

7.33

9.88

Heroin (mt)

0.046

0.022

0.033

0.010

0.030

0.007

0.013

0.001

 

Arrests/Detentions

                 

Nationals

-

1,393

1,143

1,113

737

879

696

412

610

Foreigners

131

139

217

139

137

284

104

105

149

Total Arrests

131

1,532

1,360

1,252

874

1,163

800

517

759

[end of document]

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