ARCHIVED Skip nagivation.To Contents     To Previous Page     To Next Page     To Publications Page     To Home Page


Cannabis is cultivated to a limited extent in Puerto Rico, primarily by Puerto Rican DTOs and criminal groups. Law enforcement officials report that local growers typically establish indoor grow sites in residences located in wealthy, gated communities and in the isolated communities of west central Puerto Rico. Law enforcement officials further report that traffickers also use the offshore island municipalities of Vieques and Culebra for indoor cannabis cultivation because of the islands' relative isolation and sparse law enforcement presence.

While cannabis cultivation is limited in Puerto Rico, it is prevalent in the USVI. Outdoor cannabis cultivation is widespread, and indoor cannabis cultivation is rising throughout the USVI; most of this cannabis is intended for local consumption. The USVI National Park Service and Army National Guard eradicated approximately 7,000 cannabis plants on St. John and over 5,715 on St. Croix in August 2007. Additionally, in August 2007 several cannabis plots and an undisclosed number of cannabis plants were eradicated on St. Thomas.2 Most of the grow sites were located in remote areas with well-disguised trails leading to the sites. In the face of such eradication efforts, many marijuana producers are beginning to move their grow operations indoors in an attempt to avoid law enforcement scrutiny. Moreover, indoor cannabis cultivators are increasingly producing high-potency marijuana through hydroponic growing methods because of the higher profit potential for this type of marijuana. For example, price data from the PR/USVI HIDTA reveal that marijuana grown outdoors in the USVI sells for $600 per pound, whereas high-potency hydroponic marijuana sells for $1,000 per pound.

To Top     To Contents



The PR/USVI HIDTA region is a U.S. arrival zone for illicit drugs transported from South America, particularly cocaine destined for U.S. drug markets. HIDTA officials estimate that drug traffickers transport metric ton quantities of cocaine and multikilogram quantities of SA heroin through the HIDTA en route to drug markets in the CONUS. For instance, law enforcement officials in drug markets such as Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania report that cocaine and SA heroin sold in their jurisdictions often transits Puerto Rico during shipment. Moreover, traffickers also transport significant quantities of cocaine and SA heroin through the HIDTA region en route to other areas, such as Africa, Canada, and Europe.

DTOs transport cocaine and SA heroin into the HIDTA region directly from Colombia or Venezuela--Venezuela has emerged as a major departure point in South America for drugs destined for the HIDTA region. DTOs also transport cocaine and SA heroin into the region indirectly from the west through Hispaniola or from the east through the islands of the Lesser Antilles. The principal cocaine trafficking route to western Puerto Rico is from Venezuela through the Dominican Republic, while the principal cocaine trafficking route to eastern Puerto Rico extends from Venezuela to St. Martin, through St. Thomas, and on to Vieques or Culebra. DTOs typically transport drugs throughout the region in commercial cargo aboard maritime or air conveyances; they also use go-fast boats and couriers traveling aboard ferryboats. Additionally, some traffickers employ couriers traveling aboard ferryboats to smuggle small quantities of cocaine from Vieques and Culebra to the main island of Puerto Rico.

Drug smuggling in containerized cargo is a significant maritime threat to the HIDTA region. The vast and increasing quantity of goods transshipped through the region every year provides drug traffickers with ample opportunity to smuggle illicit drugs into, through, and from the area. For example, the Port of San Juan handled almost 690,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of cargo in 2006.3 Additionally, the Port of Americas (POA), an expansion project of the Port of Ponce in Puerto Rico, handled an estimated 504,044 short tons of cargo in 2007 (the latest year for which data are available) and is projected to handle over 1.5 million in 2012.4

Law enforcement officials can inspect only a fraction of the shipping containers arriving at ports in the HIDTA region, a situation that is reportedly exploited by DTOs. According to law enforcement officials, less than 5 percent of shipping containers arriving in Puerto Rico are inspected because of limited personnel and technical resources. DTOs capitalize on the limited number of container inspections, smuggling undetermined quantities of drugs through Puerto Rico and USVI seaports.5 Consequently, the Puerto Rico Department of the Treasury is implementing measures to better identify container contents on vessels transiting local ports.

Traffickers operating in the PR/USVI HIDTA region are increasingly using the USPS, particularly Express Mail services, to transport drugs from Puerto Rico into the CONUS. Law enforcement officials report that drug traffickers are aware that investigators must obtain search warrants to open any packages sent through the USPS--this action typically delays the packages and alerts the traffickers that the packages were most likely intercepted. For example, in January 2008 the U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut announced the guilty pleas of individuals involved with the distribution of kilogram quantities of powder cocaine that had been shipped through the USPS from Puerto Rico. Similar USPS seizures were reported by law enforcement officials in Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and central Florida. Moreover, between February 2006 and December 2007, approximately 414 kilograms of illegal drugs were seized from 85 intercepted parcels sent through the USPS from Puerto Rico, intended for destinations in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and central Florida; the vast majority of parcels contained cocaine. Moreover, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, CONUS-based traffickers also utilize commercial parcel delivery services to send marijuana to Puerto Rico and the USVI. Most parcels originate from California and points along the Southwest Border. The marijuana is Mexican in origin.

To Top     To Contents



Drug distribution in the PR/USVI HIDTA region consists primarily of midlevel and retail-level distribution; wholesale quantities of illicit drugs are typically transshipped to the CONUS and to other areas, such as Africa, Canada, and Europe. Dominican and Puerto Rican DTOs dominate retail drug distribution in Puerto Rico and are frequently part of the same organization. Most retail drug distribution takes place in public housing projects and lower-income neighborhoods. Additionally, retail distribution of ODDs, primarily MDMA, takes place in nightclubs and bars and at underground nightclubs, called acid houses, or at all-night parties known as raves. Colombian, Dominican, Puerto Rican, Middle Eastern, and USVI DTOs are the most common retail-level distributors in the USVI. Retail drug distribution in the USVI takes place primarily on city street corners and in local bars and clubs.

Drug traffickers in the PR/USVI HIDTA region typically communicate using cellular telephones and the Internet. Drug distributors routinely use cellular telephones to coordinate drug transportation and distribution in Puerto Rico and the USVI. Moreover, drug traffickers also communicate using the Internet, including Internet telephone services and e-mail messages with encryption technology.

End Notes

2. No cannabis eradication data are available for Puerto Rico.
3. Container ships are designed in such a manner that no space is wasted. Their capacity is measured in twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs), the number of 20-foot containers (each 20 x 8 x 8 feet, or 6 x 2.6 x 2.6 meters) a vessel can carry, even though the majority of containers used today are 40 feet (12 meters) in length.
4. A short ton of cargo weighs 2,000 pounds.
5. The amount of illicit drugs smuggled to Puerto Rico in containerized cargo is an intelligence gap.

To Top     To Contents     To Previous Page     To Next Page

To Publications Page     To Home Page

End of page.