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National Drug Intelligence Center
Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands Drug Threat Assessment
Heroin poses a significant drug threat to Puerto Rico, although it poses only a minor threat to the USVI. Heroin abuse is a significant problem in Puerto Rico and is largely fueled by the availability of high purity South American heroin. According to local law enforcement authorities, very small quantities of Southeast Asian, Mexican black tar, and Mexican brown powdered heroin occasionally are available. Puerto Rico serves as a significant transshipment location for South American heroin smuggled to the continental United States. Heroin is transported into and through Puerto Rico primarily by air and maritime conveyances. Colombian and Dominican DTOs and criminal groups are the primary transporters of heroin into and through Puerto Rico; however, Puerto Rican criminal groups also transport heroin into and through the commonwealth. Colombian and, to a lesser extent, Dominican and Puerto Rican criminal groups are the principal distributors of wholesale quantities of heroin in Puerto Rico. These criminal groups supply the drug principally to other Puerto Rican and Dominican criminal groups and local independent dealers for retail sale. Heroin distribution in the USVI is very limited, and there is virtually no wholesale distribution of the drug. In the USVI retail-level heroin distribution is confined to a small Hispanic community in St. Croix.
Heroin abuse is a significant problem in Puerto Rico and is largely fueled by the availability of high purity South American heroin. More individuals were treated for heroin abuse than for any other illicit drug from 2000 to 2001, according to MHAASA. Twenty-three percent of males and 20 percent of females (approximately 2,453 individuals) who underwent substance abuse treatment from 2000 to 2001 cited heroin as their primary drug of abuse. The DEA Caribbean Division reports that injection is the most common method of administering heroin in Puerto Rico, although some abusers snort the drug. Although treatment data are not available for the USVI, law enforcement and health professionals indicate that heroin abuse in the USVI is very limited. Most heroin abuse in the USVI is confined to a small Hispanic community in St. Croix.
Heroin is readily available in Puerto Rico, while the availability of heroin in the USVI is limited. Almost all of this heroin is produced in South America, although local law enforcement officials report that very small quantities of Southeast Asian as well as Mexican black tar and Mexican brown powdered heroin occasionally are available. According to FDSS data, federal law enforcement authorities in Puerto Rico seized 16.8 kilograms of heroin in 1999, 43.6 kilograms in 2000, 114.2 kilograms in 2001, and 131.8 in 2002. The DEA Caribbean Division reported the following heroin seizures in the USVI: none in FY2000; 1.1 kilograms in FY2001, and 1.5 kilograms in FY2002. CBP seized approximately 14 kilograms of heroin in FY1999, 23 kilograms in FY2000, and 64 kilograms in FY2001 in Puerto Rico and the USVI. In FY2001 the USCG Greater Antillies Section made no heroin seizures. Some CBP and USCG seizures may be reflected in the FDSS data.
Heroin prices vary throughout Puerto Rico and the USVI. The DEA Caribbean Division reported that in the second quarter of FY2002, heroin sold for $70,000 to $90,000 per kilogram in Puerto Rico. At the retail level, personal use quantities, commonly called decks, sold for $5 to $12. Purity information for heroin in Puerto Rico is not available. In St. Croix heroin sold for approximately $20 per gram and $10 per deck (0.5 grams of heroin) in the second quarter of FY2002, according to DEA. Heroin purity at the retail level in St. Croix sometimes is as high as 80 percent.
The percentage of drug-related federal sentences that were heroin-related in Puerto Rico in FY2001 was significantly higher than the national percentage, while in the USVI the percentage was slightly lower than the national percentage. According to USSC data, 17.9 percent of drug-related federal sentences in Puerto Rico were heroin-related compared with 7.2 percent nationally. In the USVI 6.7 percent of drug-related federal sentences in FY2001 were heroin-related.
Some violent crime in Puerto Rico is attributed to heroin distribution and abuse. In Puerto Rico heroin distributors engage in polydrug distribution and commit violent crimes, including murder, to protect their territory. Heroin abusers sometimes commit robbery, burglary, carjacking, and home invasion to support their addictions. They often steal from family members to obtain funds to purchase heroin.
Opium is not cultivated nor is heroin refined in Puerto Rico or the USVI. Heroin is produced primarily in four source regions: South America, Mexico, Southeast Asia, and Southwest Asia. Most of the heroin available in Puerto Rico and the USVI is produced in South America.
Puerto Rico serves as an entry point for heroin destined for local markets and as a transshipment point for heroin smuggled into the U.S. mainland. Most of the heroin that is transported to the USVI is destined for local markets in St. Croix. Colombian and Dominican DTOs and criminal groups are the primary transporters of heroin into and through Puerto Rico. Puerto Rican criminal groups also transport heroin into and through the island. Heroin typically is shipped directly from South American source countries or from transshipment points in the Caribbean including the Dominican Republic, Sint Maarten, Trinidad, Tobago, Aruba, and Curaçao. The dominant transporters of heroin into the USVI as well as the transportation methods that they employ are not known.
Transporters smuggle heroin into and through Puerto Rico via couriers aboard commercial aircraft. Occasionally heroin is smuggled in air cargo shipments. Couriers typically conceal the drug internally, on their persons, or in luggage. According to federal law enforcement authorities, heroin sometimes is transported into Puerto Rico by couriers who travel aboard commercial aircraft from source countries to San Juan via major cities in the mainland United States, including Miami and New York. Heroin transported in air cargo shipments typically is packaged in containers intermingled with legitimate cargo. In 2001 approximately 5 kilograms of heroin were seized as part of Operation Jetway in Puerto Rico. That same year CBP seized 56 kilograms of heroin from commercial aircraft at airports in Puerto Rico. Some of the CBP seizures may be included in Operation Jetway data.
Drug transporters often smuggle heroin into Puerto Rico via commercial maritime conveyances. Heroin transported in commercial vessels usually is concealed inside shipping containers among legitimate goods or in false compartments built into the vessel. Occasionally heroin is intermingled with cocaine shipments. In June 2002 CBP authorities seized 24 kilograms of heroin and 25 kilograms of cocaine found in a cargo storage area on a pier in San Juan. Drug-detection canines discovered the drugs, which were packaged into bricks, wrapped in plastic, and hidden inside boxes. In 2001 CBP seized a total of 28 kilograms of heroin from commercial maritime vessels in Puerto Rico, most of which was seized in one incident at the Port of San Juan. (See text box.)
Drug transporters use couriers--including passengers and crew members--aboard cruise ships and ferries to smuggle heroin into Puerto Rico. In July 2002 federal law enforcement officials in San Juan seized 1.4 kilograms of South American heroin from a passenger on a cruise ship that arrived from Aruba. Authorities arrested the courier, a male Colombian national who was transporting the heroin in a video camera case. In October 2001 federal law enforcement officials arrested seven individuals for smuggling heroin into Puerto Rico from Aruba on a cruise ship. Each individual had swallowed between 36 and 98 condoms containing the drug. Most of the individuals were Colombian nationals.
Overland conveyances are used to transport heroin within Puerto Rico and St. Croix. After heroin has been smuggled to the islands, transporters deliver the drug to stash sites or distribution locations by private vehicle.
Colombian and, to a lesser extent, Dominican and Puerto Rican criminal groups are the principal wholesale-level distributors of heroin in Puerto Rico. These distributors manage stash houses where heroin is temporarily stored prior to local distribution or subsequent shipment to the U.S. mainland. A large cache of weapons usually is kept at these stash houses.
Puerto Rican and Dominican criminal groups and local independent dealers are the principal retail-level distributors of heroin in Puerto Rico. These retail heroin distributors also manage stash houses. Retail-level heroin distribution in Puerto Rico typically occurs at puntos de drogas, or drug points, which usually are located in or near public housing projects and other low-income neighborhoods. Generally, several drugs including heroin, crack, and powdered cocaine are available at drug points. Heroin also occasionally is distributed from businesses, including bars and nightclubs, and from private homes.
Heroin distribution in the USVI is very limited. Virtually no wholesale distribution occurs on the islands. Retail-level heroin distribution is largely confined to a small Hispanic community in St. Croix. Typically, retail heroin distributors on the island are heroin abusers who sell the drug to other abusers.
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