Maritime antinarcotics authorities have seized over 17 tons of cocaine around Puerto Rico so far this year, a huge increase on past years indicative of the growing popularity of this US territory for traffickers amid a resurgence in the Caribbean drug route.
Operation Caribbean Guard, a task force made up of the US Coast Guard and federal and local security forces, has seized 17.5 tons of cocaine so far in 2014. In comparison, the same force seized just 5.8 tons in all of 2011, reported the New York Times.
The size of the loads authorities are seizing in Puerto Rican territory have also increased, with consignments now often over a ton, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officials told the newspaper. They said this was illustrative of the confidence traffickers have that the loads will make it through undetected.
Most of the drugs moving into Puerto Rico arrive by go-fast boats, which are dispatched from Colombia and Venezuela and head either first to the Dominican Republic or directly to Puerto Rico.
Once in the country, the shipments are broken down and transported to the mainland United States through airports, seaports and by mail.
InSight Crime Analysis
US authorities have been warning for some time that drug routes are shifting back to Caribbean islands to escape the attention of law enforcement on the Mexico-US border and in Central America.
While Mexico and Central America remain the main routes for South American cocaine headed to the United States, there is growing evidence to support this assertion.
Puerto Rico is perhaps the most important territory for trafficking through this region. The island's status as an unincorporated US territory means that once shipments arrive they are effectively in the United States and can be transported to the mainland without passing through customs.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Puerto Rico
As noted by the New York Times, shipments often do not go directly to Puerto Rico but first transit through the neighboring Dominican Republic, which cannot count on the same levels of US antinarcotics support.
Traffickers also use other island nations -- such as Jamaica -- as stop off points for cocaine shipments (click on New York Times map to expand), although these remain comparatively minor routes.