HomeNewsBriefPanama’s Record Drug Seizures Reflect Colombia’s Cocaine Boom
BRIEF

Panama's Record Drug Seizures Reflect Colombia's Cocaine Boom

COLOMBIA / 16 DEC 2016 BY MIMI YAGOUB EN

Authorities in Panama say they have seized more drugs in 2016 than in any other year since 2000, and soaring cocaine production in neighboring Colombia may be the most likely explanation behind this rise.

As of December 13, authorities had intercepted 62.3 metric tons of cocaine and marijuana -- 7 percent more than last year's total and nearly 60 percent more than in 2014. It also represents the highest annual drug seizure figure since the turn of the century, the Public Security Ministry announced. (See graph below)

Cocaine made up the vast majority -- nearly 90 percent -- of the seized drugs in 2016, at 55.5 metric tons.

"This was made possible through...more efficient operations, better teams and due to the strategies that we have established in the fight against drug trafficking," Public Security Minister Alexis Bethancourt said.

SEE ALSO:  Panama News and Profile

The minister praised the results of Operation Shield that ran from May to June 2016, when authorities seized 3 metric tons of cocaine and arrested 300 people suspected of ties to drug trafficking.

He also applauded Operation Homeland, a one-month operation carried out at the end of 2015 which saw the seizure of $1.8 million in cash, and numerous arrests and drug interdictions.

InSight Crime Analysis

As is often the case with drug seizures, Panama's record figures could be the result of a variety of dynamics. While stepped-up efforts by the security forces may be part of the answer, it's likely that higher seizures are also the product of an increase in cocaine passing through the country.

Colombia is the world's largest cocaine producer, and Panama has historically been its gateway for drugs heading up to the United States. According to the US State Department's most recent estimates, up to 90 percent of all cocaine entering the country passes through the Central American corridor.

Given its geographic location, Panama is bound to be affected by Colombia's ongoing explosion in coca crops. Cultivation have soared to double the 2013 levels, and this has been accompanied by record cocaine seizures in the Andean country.

SEE ALSO:  Coverage of Cocaine Production

What's more, officials from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) recently told InSight Crime that there are indications that Colombian criminal groups known as "BACRIM" -- which are largely responsible for the country's transnational drug trafficking -- have been increasing their presence on the Panamanian border over the past year.

The home base of Colombia's most powerful BACRIM, the Urabeños, is right along this border region, and the group has long used the Caribbean coast as a departure point for illegal drugs. Despite a large-scale police operation against the Urabeños, a number of huge seizures linked to the group prove that they still have an impressive operational capacity on the drug trafficking front. 

Panama's changing security strategy could also be partly responsible for the record seizures. President Juan Carlos Varela has responded to rising production in Colombia by announcing that interdiction efforts would be bolstered, and the government has allocated funds to set up a new Special Anti-Narcotics Unit.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

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.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

COLOMBIA / 22 AUG 2017

Colombia's EPL guerrillas have reportedly taken over territory across the border with Venezuela, driving out the Venezuelan military and confronting…

COLOMBIA / 14 FEB 2019

A new report reveals that the strategies Colombia has used to reduce illicit drug use have not delivered results, and…

COLOMBIA / 31 AUG 2012

After weeks of rumored negotiations, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has confirmed that the government will begin peace talks with…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Unraveling the Web of Elites Connected to Organized Crime

27 JUL 2021

InSight Crime published Elites and Organized Crime in Nicaragua, a deep dive into the relationships between criminal actors and elites in that Central American nation.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime’s Greater Focus on US-Mexico Border

20 JUL 2021

InSight Crime has decided to turn many of its investigative resources towards understanding and chronicling the criminal dynamics along the US-Mexico border.

THE ORGANIZATION

Key Arrests and Police Budget Increases Due to InSight Crime Investigations

8 JUL 2021

With Memo Fantasma’s arrest, InSight Crime has proven that our investigations can and will uncover major criminal threats in the Americas.

THE ORGANIZATION

Organized Crime’s Influence on Gender-Based Violence

30 JUN 2021

InSight Crime investigator Laura N. Ávila spoke on organized crime and gender-based violence at the launch of a research project by the United Nations Development Programme.

THE ORGANIZATION

Conversation with Paraguay Judicial Operators on PCC

24 JUN 2021

InSight Crime Co-director Steven Dudley formed part of a panel attended by over 500 students, all of whom work in Paraguay's judicial system.