An increase in the size of cocaine seizures in Jamaica suggests that the island is playing a stronger role in international drug trafficking, as cocaine production soars in Colombia.
Jamaican authorities seized over 1,500 kilograms of cocaine hidden inside a container on a ship at the Port of Kingston on January 14, according to a Twitter post by the Jamaican Defence Force (JDF), responsible for maritime drug interdiction efforts.
Reuters reported that the drugs were valued at around $80 million (over $53,000 per kilogram), citing official estimations. The value of the shipment is likely a lot less, however, as wholesale cocaine typically garners $20,000 to $40,000 per kilogram in consumer markets, and even less when bought in the Americas.
Authorities suggested that the cocaine originated in Colombia and was sent to Jamaica for shipment onwards to the US or Europe.
Though one of the largest in the country's history, this seizure was the latest in a growing list of large-scale interdictions.
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In late December, the JDF stopped a go-fast boat carrying around half a ton of cocaine as it approached Jamaica's southeast coast, allegedly having departed from Colombia. The vessel's all-Jamaican three-person crew was detained.
And in September, a joint team of Jamaican and American anti-narcotics authorities seized some 500 kilograms of cocaine, this time at the Ian Fleming International Airport in northern Jamaica. The cocaine was seemingly bound for Canada.
These three seizures reached around 2.7 tons of cocaine, dwarfing the 1.3 tons seized by the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) at airports and ports in 2021.
Jamaica has long played a central role along Caribbean routes. It is accessible from Colombia and Central America while offering direct routes to the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Cocaine is then moved on inside cargo containers, hidden in airline freight, transported by human couriers, or sent via mail.
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Jamaica has long been a distribution platform between Colombia and the world's primary cocaine markets, especially in the time of Christopher Coke, alias "Dudus," the island's main trafficker in the 1990s and 2000s. But even then, cocaine seizures on the island were typically smaller.
"These are not ordinary [seizures]. They are exceptionally large," Anthony Clayton, a security expert and professor at Jamaica's University of the West Indies, told InSight Crime.
There are several potential reasons behind this shift.
Jervis Moore, senior superintendent and head of the JCF's Narcotics Division, told the Jamaica Star in October that more substantial seizures in the country were a natural consequence of increased Colombian cocaine production. "There has been a significant increase of [cocaine] production in Colombia," he explained, adding that Jamaica would feel the "spill over" effect.
The growing supply of cocaine, backed up by a 43% rise in coca cultivation in Colombia in 2021, has likely amplified Jamaica's potential as a cocaine trafficking hub.
The larger size of the seizures also suggests that while cocaine is more abundant, trafficking routes have not adjusted accordingly. Traffickers must now use the same structures to ship greater quantities, multiple sources in Medellín told InSight Crime.
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Jamaica has the necessary elements to play a more prominent role in international drug transportation, according to a 2022 report by the US State Department. The country has over 150 unmanned seaports and is a major hub for shipping cargo.
The island has faced similar challenges before. For 20 years until his arrest in 2010, Dudus Coke ran a complex cocaine and marijuana trafficking operation between Jamaica, the United States, and Canada. His Shower Posse gang had a strong presence in Jamaica, New York, Miami, Toronto and beyond, allowing them to control both the trafficking and distribution of cocaine and marijuana. At the time, seizures in the Caribbean accounted for 14 percent of cocaine heading for the US.
Since his arrest and extradition to the United States in 2010, no Jamaican drug trafficker has been able to replicate a similar level of control along Caribbean drug trafficking routes.
Other Caribbean islands have shared Jamaica's situation. Last year, record cocaine seizures in the French Caribbean territories of French Guiana, Guadeloupe, and Martinique underscored the region's role in supplying Europe with the drug. At the same time, authorities in Curaçao and Bonnaire, islands in the Dutch Caribbean, also made multiple large interdictions.