HomeNewsAnalysisAre Recent Cocaine Busts Evidence of Revived Jamaica-UK Drug Route?
ANALYSIS

Are Recent Cocaine Busts Evidence of Revived Jamaica-UK Drug Route?

CARIBBEAN / 10 SEP 2020 BY PARKER ASMANN EN

Drug mules in Jamaica once made a habit of exploiting weak controls on commercial flights to move cocaine into the United Kingdom before a crackdown significantly deterred such criminal activity. But a string of recent seizures has raised fears of this route's potential revitalization.

Over the course of three weeks in August, border officers at London's Gatwick international airport seized three different cocaine loads hidden on incoming flights from Jamaica, the UK's National Crime Agency (NCA) announced in an August 25 press release.

Authorities uncovered the first 22-kilogram cocaine haul on August 11, which was concealed in a vegetable shipment that departed Kingston, Jamaica’s capital. The following week, another 30 kilograms of cocaine were discovered on the same route. A third seizure on another Kingston to Gatwick flight came August 25, when border officials seized three kilograms of cocaine “suspended in a liquid solution,” according to the NCA.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Jamaica

The NCA explained that the seizures highlighted improved coordination between the force and border officials. However, a number of security experts consulted by InSight Crime fear the string of seizures may point to the revitalization of an historic drug trafficking route between the two nations.

InSight Crime Analysis

Although the Pacific is still the preferred route, in recent years the Caribbean has undergone a resurgence as a critical transit zone for transnational criminal groups trafficking cocaine loads to consumers in the United States and Europe.

Mark Shields, Jamaica’s former deputy police commissioner from 2004 to 2009, told InSight Crime he "was not surprised at all" to see the recent cocaine seizures sent to England from Jamaica via plane. 

"If you do not keep the pressure on and resources are channeled elsewhere, drug traffickers using Jamaica as a transshipment point to North America or Europe is going to come back again," he said.

SEE ALSO: String of Large Drug Seizures Suggests Growth in Caribbean Trafficking

Stopping the flow of Jamaican drug mules crossing the Atlantic has for years been a top priority for both governments. In 2002, officials in the UK and Jamaica launched Operation Airbridge, which posted UK police and customs agents at Jamaican airports to work alongside their counterparts to stop couriers at the source.

Prior to the operation, UK customs officials noticed they had a real problem on their hands after identifying an average of 30 drug mules per flight coming into the UK on three specific flights from Jamaica that were subjected to comprehensive searches, according to Chris Hobbs, a former police officer in London who worked for years in Jamaica as part of the anti-drug initiative between the two countries.

Operation Airbridge helped stem that flow considerably. In its first year, local media reported that the number of mules intercepted by authorities in Jamaica jumped from 82 to 216. Officials across the pond also saw results. Between 2002 and 2007, the number of drug mules from Jamaica detected at UK airports dropped from 1,000 to just three, according to British authorities.

While the agreement is ongoing and close cooperation between local and UK law enforcement in Jamaica continues, Shields said that Jamaican institutions charged with combatting international drug trafficking at the moment are “grossly under-resourced.”

"Until we can get to the stage where security forces are working closely with other agencies that have real teeth, we're going to see [drug trafficking] increase," he added. "Without the necessary resources, organized crime will flourish."

And as state resources are increasingly being utilized to prevent the spread of the coronavirus on the Caribbean island, the latest seizures have raised concerns that traffickers may now be rebuilding the cocaine trafficking bridge between the two countries back up.

“There’s always been a problem, and it's certainly been something Jamaican narcotics police and customs are well aware of," Hobbs said.

There is no shortage of local criminal gangs that might be looking to exploit this shift in focus. About 300 separate gangs operate in Jamaica, of which about 50 are very sophisticated networks operating on a large scale, according to Anthony Clayton, a security expert and professor at Jamaica’s University of the West Indies.

“Crime constantly evolves,” Clayton told InSight Crime. “There might have been less cocaine going on flights to the UK for a while, but these groups appear to be trying again now."

Corruption has likely exacerbated the problem. Jamaican officials earn dismal salaries, making it easy to get a customs or security officer to turn a blind eye, either through intimidation and threats or a simple bribe of a few thousand dollars, Clayton said. 

Catching the poor, desperate people who become drug mules is of little consequence, Clayton said. 

"We are chasing our tail round and round," he said, "and we always will be until we actually focus on the criminal structures in place and their networks of facilitators."

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

CARIBBEAN / 5 MAY 2017

A recent report advocates increasing legal assistance for Haiti's prisoners awaiting trial, an initiative that could lessen some of the…

CARIBBEAN / 5 APR 2012

The ritual sacrifice of three people to Mexican drug cult figure Santa Muerte, and reports of Puerto Rican traffickers using…

COCAINE / 20 JUN 2022

Gustavo Petro will be Colombia's next president. Cocaine, Venezuela, deforestation - criminal challenges face him in droves.

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Environmental and Academic Praise

17 JUN 2022

InSight Crime’s six-part series on the plunder of the Peruvian Amazon continues to inform the debate on environmental security in the region. Our Environmental Crimes Project Manager, María Fernanda Ramírez,…

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Series on Plunder of Peru’s Amazon Makes Headlines

10 JUN 2022

Since launching on June 2, InSight Crime’s six-part series on environmental crime in Peru’s Amazon has been well-received. Detailing the shocking impunity enjoyed by those plundering the rainforest, the investigation…

THE ORGANIZATION

Duarte’s Death Makes Waves

3 JUN 2022

The announcement of the death of Gentil Duarte, one of the top dissident commanders of the defunct Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), continues to reverberate in Venezuela and Colombia.

THE ORGANIZATION

Cattle Trafficking Acclaim, Investigation into Peru’s Amazon 

27 MAY 2022

On May 18, InSight Crime launched its most recent investigation into cattle trafficking between Central America and Mexico. It showed precisely how beef, illicitly produced in Honduras, Guatemala…

THE ORGANIZATION

Coverage of Fallen Paraguay Prosecutor Makes Headlines

20 MAY 2022

The murder of leading anti-crime prosecutor, Marcelo Pecci, while on honeymoon in Colombia, has drawn attention to the evolution of organized crime in Paraguay. While 17 people have been arrested…