HomeNewsAnalysisNicaragua Not Spared As Cocaine Flows Through Central America

A recent string of drug seizures linked to Nicaragua suggests smugglers are moving cocaine through the country, despite official rhetoric that it is not a transit hub.

On October 12, authorities in El Salvador made two separate arrests of Nicaraguan nationals after their tractor-trailers were found to contain cocaine, according to the Attorney General’s Office. Officials said both drivers had begun their journeys in Nicaragua.

A search of one truck -- stopped at a checkpoint near the city of Zacatecoluca in the southern La Paz department -- turned up 885 kilograms of cocaine in the fuel tank, according to prosecutors.

SEE ALSO: Nicaragua News and Profile

The same day, authorities discovered 633 kilograms of cocaine hidden in the gas tank and axle shaft of a truck entering El Salvador via the El Amatillo land crossing near La Unión, according to reports from El Diario de Hoy. The driver was headed to San Salvador, though officials said the city was unlikely to have been his final destination.

In total, over 1.5 tons of cocaine was seized, according to La Prensa.

Smaller-scale seizures have also occurred in Nicaragua of late. On October 20, a man was detained at a borderland checkpoint in Peñas Blancas after 77 kilograms of cocaine were discovered in his truck, authorities announced in a news release. A day later, Nicaraguan police said they arrested a man in the department of Chinandega who was attempting to transport some 40 kilograms of cocaine from Costa Rica to Honduras.

The nation has seen a string of similar seizures in recent months, most often in Peñas Blancas, which borders Costa Rica.

In September, US President Donald Trump included Nicaragua in a memorandum identifying the world’s major drug-producing and drug transit countries.

Nicaragua President Daniel Ortega countered in a speech this month in which he said that his country had fewer drugs going through it than many neighborhoods in the United States.

InSight Crime Analysis

Recent seizure figures suggest that traffickers are moving a glut of South American cocaine north through Central American countries, and it stands to reason that Nicaragua would serve as a smuggling corridor just like its neighbors.

To the south of Nicaragua, Costa Rica is soon expected to break its record for annual cocaine seizures, having intercepted close to 47 tons of the drug this year alone.

SEE ALSO: Nicaragua Police Seizing Record Drug Money While Cocaine Seizures Fall

Honduras, which shares a remote jungle border with Nicaragua, has intercepted more cocaine during the first seven months of this year than all of 2019, indicating a resurgence of one of Central America’s most important cocaine routes despite border shutdowns and transport restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Much of the cocaine trafficked through Central America comes from Colombia, which has seen record levels of production in recent years.

Nicaragua's government has long maintained that the country is not a transit point for drugs. Official news releases mostly tout small seizures associated with the country's "Retaining Walls" (Muros de Contención) security initiative. The strategy intends to combat organized crime, money laundering, human trafficking and contraband through forging a monolithic national security block between the military and other state institutions.

Elvira Cuadra, a Nicaraguan national security expert, told InSight Crime that "it is impossible to think that organized crime groups avoid passing through the country under the assumption of the 'retaining wall' policy that the government has been implementing for several years."

Local criminal organizations in Nicaragua respond to the needs of the transnational drug trafficking networks, she added.

In its most recent International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, the US State Department dismissed Nicaragua's claims that it was successfully impeding the smuggling of drugs, weapons, currency and people within its borders, concluding that Nicaragua's efforts "remain under-resourced, without dedicated air assets, technical capacity, training or accountability."

In the first nine months of 2019, Nicaragua's government reported conducting 4,786 operations that targeted local and international drug trafficking organizations, a significant decrease from the nearly 8,000 interceptions carried out in 2017, according to the State Department report.

Cocaine continues to flow up Nicaragua's Caribbean coast. Nicaraguan nationals have been implicated in at least four maritime drug seizures since last December, usually in collaboration with citizens from other countries along well-established Caribbean trafficking routes.

The State Department reported that the Ortega government's focus on repressing ongoing socio-political turmoil has diverted a significant number of resources away from counternarcotics operations. Since 2018, the Ortega government has been embroiled in a political crisis after facing widespread protests. The country also faces a massive economic downturn.

Criminal groups have been adapting to the difficulties the situation has presented, Cuadra noted.

“This has made them find new ways of operating to carry out their trafficking activities,” she said, adding that recent interceptions suggest “major [drug] operations” are currently taking place in the country.

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

COCAINE / 28 FEB 2022

The assassination of a suspected Albanian drug trafficker in Ecuador is another reminder of the increasing presence of Balkan trafficking…

ARGENTINA / 25 JAN 2021

Through several rounds of extensive field investigations, our researchers have analyzed and mapped out the main illicit economies and criminal groups present in 39 border…

BRAZIL / 31 DEC 2021

Prediction of the criminal dynamics for 2022 is even harder than most years, as it involves predicting the march of…

About InSight Crime

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Extensive Coverage of our Chronicles of a Cartel Bodyguard

23 SEP 2022

Our recent investigation, A Cartel Bodyguard in Mexico’s 'Hot Land', has received extensive media coverage.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime, American University Host Illegal Fishing Panel

19 SEP 2022

InSight Crime and the Center for Latin American & Latino Studies (CLALS) at American University discussed the findings of a joint investigation on IUU fishing at a September 9 conference.

THE ORGANIZATION

Impact on the Media Landscape

9 SEP 2022

InSight Crime’s first investigation on the Dominican Republic made an immediate impact on the Dominican media landscape, with major news outlets republishing and reprinting our findings, including in …

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Sharpens Its Skills

2 SEP 2022

Last week, the InSight Crime team gathered for our annual retreat in Colombia, where we discussed our vision and strategy for the next 12 months.  During the week, we also learned how to…

THE ORGANIZATION

Colombia’s Fragile Path to Peace Begins to Take Shape

26 AUG 2022

InSight Crime is charting the progress of President Gustavo Petro’s agenda as he looks to revolutionize Colombia’s security policy, opening dialogue with guerrillas, reforming the military and police, and…