As relations warm between the United States and its longtime political foe Cuba, the former rivals may step up bilateral efforts in one of the few areas where they have traditionally worked together: counternarcotics.
President Barack Obama's announcement in mid-December that the United States would normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba could foster increased cooperation between the two countries in their fight against transnational drug trafficking, reported the Washington Post.
With drug smuggling through the Caribbean tripling over a five-year span, Cuba has become an increasingly important regional ally to the United States in its efforts to prevent narcotics from reaching US shores.
"We need to work with the Cubans in a far greater capacity," a former US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) official told the Washington Post. "It's insanity not to do so."
In a White House press release that accompanied Obama's December announcement, the United States said it would cooperate with Cuba on issues in which the two countries share a mutual interest, including counternarcotics.
InSight Crime Analysis
In spite of the long diplomatic stalemate between the United States and Cuba, their cooperation in the fight against drug trafficking is not a new development. Even without a formal agreement in place, US anti-drug officials have worked with their Cuban counterparts in a limited capacity for a number of years. According to the US Department of State's 2014 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Cuba sends the United States information on maritime drug trafficking on a case-by-case basis, including photos of suspected drug vessels.
Normalized relations between the two countries would enable a much stronger partnership. This could include measures like US counternarcotics aid to the island nation as well as the formalization of an extradition agreement. However, political opposition in the US Congress to increased ties with Cuba could block these types of initiatives.
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Despite the apparent resurgence of drug trafficking through the Caribbean, it is worth questioning how big of an effect a new counternarcotics agreement between the United States and Cuba would have on transnational drug trafficking. Due to Cuba's draconian drug laws -- President Raul Castro threatened to impose the death penalty on drug traffickers at an international summit in 2013 -- very few drugs are believed to pass through the island nation.