El Salvador authorities have begun compiling a list of freight companies thought to be involved in drug smuggling, though on its own the measure seems unlikely to have much impact on the trade.
According to the Salvadoran customs authority (DGA), 152 of the country's freight companies are "at risk" of involvement in trafficking based on frequent or repeated drug seizures from their vehicles. Of those, 76 are considered "high risk" and the other 76 "medium risk," reported La Prensa Grafica.
Several of the companies are linked to ten seizures which turned up a total of 966 kilograms of cocaine and $366,000, according to the newspaper. No arrests or legal proceedings against the companies resulted from those seizures.
Raul Alfaro, president of the country's International Freight Carriers Association (ASTIC), admitted many Salvadoran transport companies were involved in drug trafficking. According to a freight driver interviewed by La Prensa Grafica, company owners and managers were often responsible for drugs hidden in vehicles, a claim bolstered by transport union representatives in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, who questioned how companies could charge fees lower than their operational costs to transport legal goods.
According to La Prensa Grafica, no Salvadoran transport company has faced prosecution for drug smuggling since 2008. Honduras is the only other country in the region with plans to compile a similar list.
InSight Crime Analysis
While some drivers of trucks concealing drugs have been prosecuted, La Prensa Grafica's piece illustrates how generally there has been near total impunity. Any attempts by El Salvador to remedy that should thus be welcomed.
However, such a measure is unlikely to work alone. First, the police corruption and judicial inefficiency that allow drug transporters or even kingpins to walk free after being caught in the act are not going to magically disappear now that authorities have a list of suspects. Second, as is the case with much of the region's counternarcotics efforts, the watchlist targets those lower down the chain of command rather than attacking the criminal organizations who direct the transhipment operations -- although some "transportistas" do go on to become major players.
Finally, even if the watchlist does lead to more seizures and more prosecutions, it will not stop the flow of drugs north. Traffickers will simply find other forms of transport or new routes if law enforcement on El Salvador's highways creates too much of a headache.