Authorities in Puerto Rico are targeting a sophisticated gang accused of supplying the local drug market, in a case that demonstrates how rising cocaine transit through the island could fuel the growth of micro-trafficking and the evolution of local gangs.
Following a joint investigation by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Puerto Rican police, arrest warrants were issued for seventy-two individuals charged with drug trafficking in Puerto Rico's capital city of San Juan. So far 44 people have been arrested, reported the Puerto Rico Metro.
The gang allegedly distributed cocaine, crack, marijuana, heroin and prescription medications like Percocet and Xanax in San Juan, reported El Nuevo Dia. Prosecutors say they believe the gang earned around $15 million over the last few years.
US Attorney for Puerto Rico Rosa Emilia Rodriguez said the gang had been linked to at least six homicides committed between 2007 and 2014. Members have also been accused of participating in drive-by shootings and reportedly possessed high caliber weapons including AK-47s and AR-15s.
Authorities have identified six leaders of the organization, some of whom allegedly operate from prison.
InSight Crime Analysis
In recent years, an apparent resurgence of the Caribbean cocaine trafficking route has seen Puerto Rico emerge as an increasingly important transshipment point for cocaine headed to the mainland United States. Part of the island's appeal to drug traffickers is due to its status as a US territory, which means that shipments from Puerto Rico do not have to pass through customs on their way to the mainland.
By the end of May this year, over 17 tons of cocaine had been seized in Puerto Rico by a task force comprised of the US Coast Guard and other security forces, compared to under six tons in all of 2011.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Puerto Rico
Although officials estimate that 80 percent of drugs that reach Puerto Rico are shipped on to the mainland United States, the remaining 20 percent are sold on the domestic market. Fighting among local gangs for control of domestic distribution has already led to significant violent conflict, with an estimated 70 to 80 percent of murders linked to drugs, and it is likely more gangs will grow in strength and numbers as transit through Puerto Rico increases.
While the recently dismantled drug gang appears to have only distributed locally, other Puerto Rican criminal groups have been involved in sending cocaine shipments from the island to the mainland US. In addition to fueling a growth in micro-trafficking, increased drug transit through Puerto Rico may also facilitate the evolution of domestic gangs by allowing them to form ties with transnational criminal organizations operating on the island.