DEA Congressional Testimony
January 04, 2000


Statement by:

Statement of
William E. Ledwith
Chief of International Operations
Drug Enforcement Administration
United States Department of Justice

Before the
House Government Reform Committee

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for this opportunity to speak on behalf of the DEA on the general subject of drug trafficking in the Caribbean, with a particular focus on Cuba and Puerto Rico. I have a written statement to submit for the record, with your permission. Allow me to begin by discussing trafficking patterns in the Caribbean.

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.

The international drug syndicates operating throughout our hemisphere are resourceful, adaptable, and extremely powerful. These syndicates have an unprecedented level of sophistication and are more powerful and influential than any of the organized crime enterprises preceding them. Traditional organized crime syndicates, operating within the United States from the turn of the century to the present, simply cannot compare to the Colombian and Mexican drug trafficking organizations functioning in this hemisphere. These drug trafficking organizations have at their disposal an arsenal of technology, weapons and allies, corrupted law enforcement, and government officials enabling them to dominate the illegal drug market in ways not previously thought possible. The leaders of these drug trafficking organizations oversee a multi-billion dollar cocaine and heroin industry that affects every aspect of American life.

TRAFFICKING THROUGH THE CARIBBEAN TO THE UNITED STATES:

The Caribbean has long been an important transit zone for drugs entering the United States and Europe from South America. The drugs are transported through the region, to both the United States and Europe, through a wide variety of routes and methods.

The primary method for smuggling large quantities of cocaine through the Caribbean to the United States is via maritime vessels. Go-fast boats (small launches with powerful motors), bulk cargo freighters, and containerized cargo vessels are the most common conveyances for moving large quantities of cocaine through the region. Drug traffickers also routinely transport smaller quantities of cocaine from Colombia to clandestine landing strips in the Caribbean, using single or twin-engine aircraft. Traffickers also airdrop cocaine loads to waiting land vehicles and/or maritime vessels.

Couriers transport smaller quantities of cocaine on commercial flights from the Caribbean to the United States. Couriers transport cocaine by concealing small multi-kilogram quantities of cocaine on their person or in baggage. Couriers also transport small quantities (up to one kilogram) of cocaine by ingesting the product.

Compared to cocaine, heroin movement through the Caribbean is limited. Heroin is generally not consumed in the Caribbean, but rather is transshipped to Puerto Rico or the Continental United States. Almost all of the heroin transiting the Caribbean originates in Colombia. Couriers generally transport kilogram quantities of Colombian heroin on commercial flights from South America to Puerto Rico or the Continental United States, concealing the heroin on their person or in baggage. Couriers also transport smaller quantities (up to one kilogram) of heroin by concealing the heroin through ingestion. The couriers sometimes make one or two stops at various Caribbean islands in an effort to mask their original point of departure from law enforcement.

Jamaica remains the only significant Caribbean source country for marijuana destined to the United States. Go-fast boats from Jamaica often transport multi-hundred kilogram quantities of marijuana through Cuban and Bahamian waters to Florida.

The Caribbean also plays an important role in drug-related money laundering. Many Caribbean countries have well-developed offshore banking systems and bank secrecy laws that facilitate money laundering. In countries with less developed banking systems, money is often moved through these countries in bulk shipments of cash - the ill-gotten proceeds of selling illicit drugs in the United States. The ultimate destination of the currency and/or assets is other Caribbean countries or South America

A few statistics will illustrate the magnitude of the problem posed by South American cocaine flowing through the Caribbean to the United States. The Interagency Assessment of Cocaine Movement (IACM), in which the DEA participates, provides estimates on the cocaine tonnage transiting various countries including Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, The Bahamas, and to Cuba. The following table of IACM data provides estimated cocaine flow in metric tons through these countries to the United States from July 1998 through June 1999.

Estimated Cocaine Flow in Metric Tons from July 1998 through June 1999
3Q/CY98 4Q/CY98 1Q/CY99 2Q/CY99 TOTAL
Jamaica 4.9 2.55 5.75 3 16.2
Haiti 7.728 17.97 16.25 11.941 53.889
The Dominican Republic 2.411 1.513 3.96 1.95 5.91
The Bahamas 16.33 5.7 9.047 0.925 32.002
Cuba 1.35 0.5 0 0 1.85


TRAFFICKING THROUGH THE CARIBBEAN TO EUROPE:

The Caribbean region continues to play an important role in the transportation of cocaine from South America to Europe. Cocaine is transported to Europe through the Caribbean primarily in commercial container cargo or concealed in medium-to-large merchant vessels. Spain is the primary destination of this cocaine. Colombian drug traffickers prefer forming alliances with Spanish drug traffickers. In Spain, there is no language barrier and the Colombian drug traffickers can move about with more anonymity than in other European countries. The Netherlands and Belgium are other focal points currently used by Colombian drug trafficking organizations to distribute cocaine to Europe. Colombian organizations exploit the commercial links that exist between the Netherlands Antilles and the European markets in Holland and Belgium

Containers are loaded with cocaine in South American ports. The cocaine is sometimes concealed in the merchandise itself, but more often, in false compartments constructed within the container. The containers are often transshipped through various ports in South America, Central America, and the Caribbean while enroute to European ports. While Spain has remained the primary initial destination of the cocaine, recent seizures indicate large cocaine shipments were destined for ports in the Mediterranean and northern Europe.

Large quantities of cocaine are also clandestinely loaded aboard medium to large merchant vessels in the Caribbean. Merchant vessels destined for Europe call at various ports in the Caribbean to load legitimate cargo. At some point in the journey to Europe, the vessels will sail near the Colombian or Venezuelan Caribbean coasts where go-fast boats rendezvous with the merchant vessels and load large quantities of cocaine. The cocaine may then be stored in false compartments constructed in the merchant vessel and then transported to locations near the European coast. The cocaine can then be loaded onto go-fast boats and clandestinely off-loaded at various locations on the European coast

Countries in Europe are experiencing an increase in drug abuse and a concomitant increase in the flow of cocaine from South America. Over the past 10 years, cocaine seizures in Europe have increased dramatically. In 1988, a total of 5.7 metric tons of cocaine HCl was seized in Europe. In 1997, the total rose to 40 metric tons. This increase in seizures is an indicator of increased demand for cocaine in Europe. The increase in demand has driven the price of cocaine in Europe to levels above those found in the U.S. In 1998, the price range for one kilogram of cocaine sold in the U.S. was $10,000 to $36,000. During the same period, the price of cocaine in Europe ranged from a low of $12,000 per kilogram in the Netherlands to a high of $55,000 per kilogram in Germany. During 1998, the average price of a kilogram of cocaine in Spain was $41,000. This disparity in price between Europe and the United States is a significant incentive for Colombian drug traffickers to expand their marketing efforts in Europe.

CUBA'S ROLE IN THE DRUG TRADE:

The island of 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 operation 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 the Government of 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 for Drug Control and Crime Prevention (UNODCCP). Cuban authorities, on occasion, have arrested individual drug traffickers; but, historically, the Cuban government did not respond aggressively to incursions by these traffickers into Cuban territorial waters 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.

Drug traffickers continue to use Cuban waters and airspace to evade U.S. interdiction assets. Go-fast boats from Jamaica routinely travel just inside Cuban waters to avoid contact with U.S. vessels. Traffickers also use small aircraft to transport cocaine from clandestine airfields on the Guajira Peninsula in Colombia through Cuban air space. The cocaine may then be airdropped and later retrieved by go-fasts that take the drugs to The Bahamas for further transshipment to the United States. It should be noted that, in 1999, the number of these suspected drug over-flights of Cuban territory has declined compared to the number in 1998

According to Cuban police reporting provided to the Colombian Government, Cuban law enforcement has made occasional arrests of drug couriers. The majority of these couriers were transporting kilogram quantities of cocaine to European countries, although occasional deliveries were made to traffickers operating in Cuba. Cuban authorities have reported to the Colombian authorities only limited instances of heroin couriers traveling to Cuba.

Commercial vessels, which transport cocaine from South America to Europe, may also load legitimate cargo in Cuban ports. These vessels transit other Caribbean, Central American or South American ports. At some time during the voyage, the vessel may sail near the Colombian or Venezuelan coast. Cocaine may then be clandestinely loaded aboard these vessels.

In addressing the role of Cuba in the international drug trade, DEA must rely on international media sources, as well as other foreign law enforcement agencies, for much of our information regarding drug arrests and seizures by Cuban authorities. DEA does not have 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 CARTAGENA SEIZURE

The December 1998 seizure of 7.254 metric tons of cocaine in the Colombian port of Cartagena is one example of drugs apparently destined to transit Cuba -- which has received a great deal of attention. The Colombian National Police found the cocaine sophisticatedly concealed in compartments within maritime shipping containers. The containers were manifested for shipment to Cuba. DEA, and other U.S. counterdrug agencies have been aggressively and meticulously pursuing the investigation of this cocaine shipment. I outline below some of the steps we have taken since my last appearance before this committee. At this point in our investigation, we have no information that suggests that this shipment was destined for the United States. The information we do have, which we are attempting to corroborate, indicates that the shipment was destined for Spain.

The 7.254 metric tons of cocaine destined for Havana, Cuba, and seized in Cartagena, Colombia in December 1998, was unquestionably a significant amount of illegal drugs. Investigations by the Colombian National Police, the DEA Bogota Country Office, the DEA Madrid Country Office, the Spanish National Police and the Cuban Federal Police, to date, have not developed direct evidence of the ultimate destination of the cocaine. Drug trafficking organizations generally do not ship multi-ton cocaine shipments by a specific route or method without first testing the "pipeline." Information provided by the Cuban Police, to the Colombian National Police, indicated that the same companies, involved with the shipment seized in Cartagena, made at least four previous shipments of containers. In each of these four shipments, containers that originated in Cartagena were shipped from Cuba to Spain.

Information also provided by the Cuban Police to the Colombian National Police indicated the Cuban Police searched the premises in Havana of businesses associated with the Cartagena seizure. The Cuban Police reported the discovery of four containers that appeared to have been outfitted with false compartments. The four containers bore the serial numbers of containers shipped from Cartagena through Cuba to Spain. None of the agencies investigating this seizure have been able to obtain direct evidence that any of the containers in the four shipments described above contained cocaine.

DEA is vigorously engaged in a comprehensive investigation of all aspects of this seizure. We are cooperating extensively with authorities in Colombia and Spain. Special Agents from DEA Headquarters are assigned to the "Cartagena seizure investigation." A Senior Supervisory Special Agent is assigned oversight of the investigation and is coordinating the compilation of all information involving Cuba. Another Senior Supervisory Special Agent and a Supervisory Special Agent, as well as, two Intelligence Research Specialists, are also assigned to assist in this effort. This group is assisting DEA Headquarters, the DEA Bogota Country Office, the DEA Madrid Country Office, and other foreign and domestic DEA offices to coordinate all aspects of this investigation in a timely manner.

The DEA Office of International Operations is working closely with the DEA Bogota Country Office and the DEA Madrid Country Office to review all existing documents, assist in ensuring all previous leads are followed, and in developing new leads. I want to thank the Committee for the information you provided, including audio tapes and transcripts. I assure the Committee that all information derived from these sources will be factored into our investigation.

A priority of DEA is to obtain independent corroboration of all information and evidence acquired in this investigation. This will include working to corroborate all foreign police reports to the greatest extent possible. All of the reports are being reviewed by the Headquarters Intelligence Research Specialists assigned to this investigation.

The DEA Madrid Country Office, the DEA Bogota Country Office and the DEA Office of International Operations coordinated the December 1999 visit to Colombia of Spanish authorities. The Spanish authorities, the Colombian officials, and the DEA met to review evidence and to discuss sources and methods for developing new information and evidence regarding the alleged drug trafficking between Colombia and Spain.

In any investigation, the DEA does not rule out any possibility until the investigation is concluded. As an investigation proceeds, DEA investigators review all available information. This review provides DEA investigators with an assessment of the information and investigative direction to follow. As new information is developed, the investigative direction is always subject to change.

The primary focus, after the information is obtained, is to develop evidence that can be used in criminal prosecutions and corroborate evidence to meet evidentiary standards. DEA investigators always seek to locate any information or evidence that provides a factual basis for criminal charges. If there is doubt about the validity of information or evidence, DEA investigators seek to either prove or disprove it. The DEA is applying these investigative principles to the Cartagena investigation.

There have been many instances in which evidence was discovered in the latter stages of an investigation, resulting in a change in the direction of the investigation. There have also been instances in which evidence initially determined to be factual has been disproved, resulting in a change in the direction of the investigation. While I cannot comment on the details of an ongoing investigation in a public forum, I assure you that DEA continues to expend every effort on the investigation of the Cartagena shipment.

Now, I would like to have SAC Vigil discuss issues specific to Puerto Rico.

Home USDOJ.GOV Privacy Policy Contact Us Site Map