William E. Ledwith
House Government Reform Committee, Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Resources
November 17, 1999
Note: This document may not reflect changes made in actual delivery.
Chairman Mica and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today and as always, thank you for your continued support of drug law enforcement. The subcommittee is today hearing testimony on Cuba's links to drug trafficking.
DEA's mission is to protect American citizens from drug traffickers by enforcing the drug laws of the United States. A major means of accomplishing this mission is DEA's ability to target the command and control of the most significant international drug trafficking organizations operating in the world today. Several of these organizations smuggle their poison into the United States through the Caribbean. A portion of this smuggling transits Cuban waters or air space by virtue of its geographic proximity between the source zone countries and the United States.
The subcommittee is interested in DEA's knowledge of any steps taken by the Cuban government to counter the drug trafficking threat. This is difficult to assess because DEA has no office in Cuba and no established liaison with Cuban law enforcement authorities. Cuba has counternarcotics agreements with several other nations, but no such treaties with the United States. Cuba does work, on a case by case basis, with U.S. law enforcement and interdiction agencies.
As a law enforcement agency, the DEA does not make recommendations whether to certify or not to certify countries for cooperation in counter drug efforts. We do, however, annually provide to the Attorney General factual summaries and our objective assessment of a country's law enforcement capability to combat international drug trafficking.
The nature and extent of the drug threat from Cuba
Cuba lies in a direct air and maritime path from South America to Florida. As Cuba expands its foreign trade relations, its territory will become more vulnerable to exploitation by international criminals seeking to establish new bases of operations for illegal activities, including drug trafficking. Understanding these changing trafficking trends is vital in order to take effective measures to stem the flow of drugs.
While Cuba's performance in interdicting narcotics has been mixed, the Cuban Government has recently strengthened agreements with several governments - including the United Kingdom, Italy, the Bahamas, and France - as well as the United Nations office of Drug Control Policy (UNDCP). Although Cuban authorities on occasion have arrested individual drug traffickers, historically, the Cuban government was not aggressive in responding to incursions by these traffickers into Cuban territorial water and airspace. Cuba has argued that it lacks the "naval means" and other resources to patrol all of its airspace and territorial waters while at the same time it does not routinely permit U.S. interdiction assets to enter its territory.
It is important to understand that much of our information regarding drug arrests and seizures by Cuban authorities has been gleaned through international media sources as well as other foreign law enforcement agencies which is a result of not having a presence in Cuba. Therefore, we have no formal contacts with Cuban authorities and we cannot independently corroborate much of the reporting on alleged Cuban involvement in drug trafficking.
The most recent case related to Cuba is the Colombian National Police (CNP) seizure of 7.2 metric tons of cocaine in Cartagena, Colombia, on December 3, 1998. Allow me to clarify for the subcommittee the limited extent of the information currently available to the DEA on this case. This seizure is part of an active investigation being aggressively conducted by the CNP, Spanish National Police (SNP) and the DEA.
Currently, DEA has no information to suggest that this shipment of 7.2 metric tons of cocaine was destined for the United States. Limited and as yet uncorroborated information indicates that the cocaine was bound for Spain. This information includes previous bills of lading for the containers; previous movements of the merchant vessel; Cuban police examination of containers in Havana that contained false walls; and the Cuban authorities' seizure of $107,000.00 in Spanish currency in one of the containers. At this stage of the investigation, DEA has no evidence regarding the final destination of the cocaine-laden containers beyond Cuba. Our best assessment of all available information currently indicates that Spain was the most likely destination for the cocaine shipment after it reached Cuba. We are certain that the shipment was intended for Cuba as an intermediary stop.
At this time, DEA has no evidence indicating that high ranking officials of the Cuban government were complicit in this shipment. The drugs were well enough concealed that Cuban officials might not have ever become aware of their presence, had the shipment not been seized in Cartagena.
In conclusion, DEA will continue to evaluate the challenge to drug law enforcement posed by the constantly changing dynamics of the international drug trade in the Caribbean. A striking feature of the trade is the drug traffickers' ability and resourcefulness to respond and adapt to law enforcement operations. However, DEA continues to develop and implement flexible responses to this threat as evidenced by our most recent success in Operations Millennium and Columbus. These operations underscore DEA's ability to coordinate sophisticated, international drug enforcement operations resulting in the arrests of some of the most powerful narcotics traffickers operating in Colombia and the Caribbean Islands. In similar fashion, DEA continues to aggressively pursue all investigative leads rising out of bilateral investigations in Colombia and Spain regarding the seizure of 7.2 metric tons of cocaine.
As always, Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you. I appreciate the interest you and the subcommittee have shown in DEA and in drug law enforcement. I will gladly answer any questions you may have.