A string of multi-ton cocaine seizures in Ecuador and the Caribbean suggest massive drug shipments have made a comeback in Latin America, a development that's likely linked to a surge in Colombian cocaine production.
On February 27, US Coast Guard officials intercepted a fishing boat in international waters north of Suriname that was carrying approximately 4.2 tons of cocaine, reported Coast Guard News. The shipment is reportedly valued at $125 million, and represents the largest maritime seizure in the Atlantic Ocean since 1999.
The following day, police forces in Ecuador seized an estimated 2.3 tons of liquid cocaine that was mixed with oil and destined for Mexico, El Telégrafo reported. The operation took place in the province of Guayas, where Ecuador's largest city and main port, Guayaquil, is located.
Authorities also confiscated about 10 tons of cocaine over the span of several days in November and December of last year, including a 7.5 ton shipment in Guayaquil.
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Massive cocaine shipments leaving Latin America's shores were thought to be a thing of the past, but the recent seizures disprove this theory. Authorities are believed to capture only a small percentage of all drug shipments, meaning a significant number of multi-ton loads are probably making their way to Central America and eventually the United States.
The most likely explanation for this is the ongoing cocaine production boom in Colombia, the world's largest supplier of the illegal drug. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that Colombian coca cultivation rose 39 percent between 2014 and 2015, and that its annual potential cocaine production has reached 646 metric tons. With that much product flooding the market, it's unsurprising that drug traffickers are taking bigger risks in the hopes of even bigger payoffs.
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Changes in US consumption trends could also be playing a role. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), deaths from cocaine overdose have hit their highest point since 2007. US officials also registered a 57 percent increase in seizures between 2014 and 2015, suggesting a greater amount of cocaine is once again reaching US consumers following a prolonged decline in user rates.