HomeNewsBriefDrug Gangs Corrupt Panama’s Shipping Industry
BRIEF

Drug Gangs Corrupt Panama’s Shipping Industry

COCAINE / 9 APR 2019 BY MARIA ALEJANDRA NAVARRETE FORERO EN

Drug gangs have infiltrated a Panama port through employees who smuggle cocaine into cargo containers destined for Europe — a trafficking scheme that shows how Panama’s shipping industry is used to move large quantities of drugs across the Atlantic.

Local gangs, in partnership with Colombian traffickers, have become increasingly involved in protecting and smuggling cocaine onto cargo ships docked in the port city of Colón along the northern edge of the Panama Canal, according to La Prensa.

SEE ALSO: Panama News and Profile

The cocaine arrives from Colombia via drug mules. Carrying as much as 10 kilograms of cocaine in backpacks, they cross the Darien Gap, a jungle separating Colombia and Panama. The Colón gangs receive the cocaine and then smuggle it into the port with the help of compromised employees. These employees, known as “cuadrillas,” include security guards at the port’s entrance and dock workers who conceal the drugs within the walls of shipping containers and inside fruit cargo headed to Europe.

According to La Prensa, a port security guard can earn as much as $10,000 per shipment.

In 2018, authorities in Colón arrested 330 people and seized 12 tons of cocaine, according to government figures. Nearly half of the seized cocaine was discovered in the port terminals.

InSight Crime Analysis

Colombia’s boom in cocaine production and Europe’s increasing appetite for the drug have made Panama and its vast shipping industry a target of drug traffickers.

Panama’s strategic location has long made it a waystation for drug shipments from South America. But the amount of cocaine moving through the country has increased.

Last year, authorities seized 73 tons of cocaine, a massive jump from the 11.2 tons in 2000, according to Panama’s public ministry. And from 2014 to 2017, the amount of seized cocaine jumped from nearly 40 tons to more than 80 tons.

The more than doubling of seized cocaine in four years could be attributed to better interdiction efforts by authorities, but is also likely tied to record cocaine production in Colombia.

SEE ALSO: Colombia News and Profile

The cargo ships passing through Panama and destined for Europe are particularly attractive to Colombian traffickers who are seeking to gain access to markets other than the United States, where they have lost out to Mexico’s criminal groups. Moving the drug across the Atlantic is a way for the Colombian traffickers to make up the shortfall, as street prices in Europe are high and demand for the drug there continues to grow.

Panama is not the only country in Latin America seeing its ports targeted by smugglers. A remote port along the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica has seen a spike in the amount of cocaine discovered in cargo destined for Europe. And authorities in Brazil have revealed a new trafficking route from an antiquated port to the Netherlands.

Northern European ports have also been flooded with cocaine. The Port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands and the Port of Antwerp in Belgium saw more than 73 tons of cocaine in 2018, a nearly 35 percent increase from the 54 metric tons seized in both harbors in 2017.

Stuffing cocaine into a container ship full of fruit may seem like an old-fashioned smuggling gambit. But traffickers still find the method effective, and port employees will always be susceptible to their overtures.

Compartir icon icon icon

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.

Related Content

COLOMBIA / 11 SEP 2015

The near complete closure of the Colombia-Venezuela border could spell disaster for communities reliant on the black market economy…

COLOMBIA / 24 SEP 2015

Colombia's government and rebel group the FARC have reached an agreement on transitional justice and announced that the longest-running conflict…

COLOMBIA / 31 AUG 2012

Colombian authorities arrested five suspects who they say were contracted by FARC rebels in a May bombing meant to assassinate…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

We Have Updated Our Website

4 FEB 2021

Welcome to our new home page. We have revamped the site to create a better display and reader experience.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Events – Border Crime: The Northern Triangle and Tri-Border Area

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 departments spread across the six countries of study – the Northern Triangle trio of Guatemala, Honduras, and El…

BRIEF

InSight Crime’s ‘Memo Fantasma’ Investigation Wins Simón Bolívar National Journalism Prize

COLOMBIA / 20 NOV 2020

The staff at InSight Crime was awarded the prestigious Simón Bolívar national journalism prize in Colombia for its two-year investigation into the drug trafficker known as “Memo Fantasma,” which was…

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – From Uncovering Organized Crime to Finding What Works

COLOMBIA / 12 NOV 2020

This project began 10 years ago as an effort to address a problem: the lack of daily coverage, investigative stories and analysis of organized crime in the Americas. …

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – Ten Years of Investigating Organized Crime in the Americas

FEATURED / 2 NOV 2020

In early 2009, Steven Dudley was in Medellín, Colombia. His assignment: speak to a jailed paramilitary leader in the Itagui prison, just south of the city. Following his interview inside…