William E. Ledwith
Chief of International Operations
Drug Enforcement Administration
United States Department of Justice
House Government Reform Committee
January 4, 2000
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for this opportunity to speak on behalf of
the DEA on the general subject of drug trafficking in the Caribbean, with
a particular focus on Cuba and Puerto Rico. I have a written statement
to submit for the record, with your permission. Allow me to begin by discussing
trafficking patterns in the Caribbean.
DEA's mission is to protect American citizens from drug traffickers
by enforcing the drug laws of the United States. A major means of accomplishing
this mission is DEA's ability to target the command and control of the
most significant international drug trafficking organizations operating
in the world today. Several of these organizations smuggle their poison
into the United States through the Caribbean.
The international drug syndicates operating throughout our hemisphere
are resourceful, adaptable, and extremely powerful. These syndicates have
an unprecedented level of sophistication and are more powerful and influential
than any of the organized crime enterprises preceding them. Traditional
organized crime syndicates, operating within the United States from the
turn of the century to the present, simply cannot compare to the Colombian
and Mexican drug trafficking organizations functioning in this hemisphere.
These drug trafficking organizations have at their disposal an arsenal
of technology, weapons and allies, corrupted law enforcement, and government
officials enabling them to dominate the illegal drug market in ways not
previously thought possible. The leaders of these drug trafficking organizations
oversee a multi-billion dollar cocaine and heroin industry that affects
every aspect of American life.
TRAFFICKING THROUGH THE CARIBBEAN TO THE UNITED STATES:
The Caribbean has long been an important transit zone for drugs entering
the United States and Europe from South America. The drugs are transported
through the region, to both the United States and Europe, through a wide
variety of routes and methods.
The primary method for smuggling large quantities of cocaine through
the Caribbean to the United States is via maritime vessels. Go-fast boats
(small launches with powerful motors), bulk cargo freighters, and containerized
cargo vessels are the most common conveyances for moving large quantities
of cocaine through the region. Drug traffickers also routinely transport
smaller quantities of cocaine from Colombia to clandestine landing strips
in the Caribbean, using single or twin-engine aircraft. Traffickers also
airdrop cocaine loads to waiting land vehicles and/or maritime vessels.
Couriers transport smaller quantities of cocaine on commercial flights
from the Caribbean to the United States. Couriers transport cocaine by
concealing small multi-kilogram quantities of cocaine on their person or
in baggage. Couriers also transport small quantities (up to one kilogram)
of cocaine by ingesting the product.
Compared to cocaine, heroin movement through the Caribbean is limited.
Heroin is generally not consumed in the Caribbean, but rather is transshipped
to Puerto Rico or the Continental United States. Almost all of the heroin
transiting the Caribbean originates in Colombia. Couriers generally transport
kilogram quantities of Colombian heroin on commercial flights from South
America to Puerto Rico or the Continental United States, concealing the
heroin on their person or in baggage. Couriers also transport smaller quantities
(up to one kilogram) of heroin by concealing the heroin through ingestion.
The couriers sometimes make one or two stops at various Caribbean islands
in an effort to mask their original point of departure from law enforcement.
Jamaica remains the only significant Caribbean source country for marijuana
destined to the United States. Go-fast boats from Jamaica often transport
multi-hundred kilogram quantities of marijuana through Cuban and Bahamian
waters to Florida.
The Caribbean also plays an important role in drug-related money laundering.
Many Caribbean countries have well-developed offshore banking systems and
bank secrecy laws that facilitate money laundering. In countries with less
developed banking systems, money is often moved through these countries
in bulk shipments of cash - the ill-gotten proceeds of selling illicit
drugs in the United States. The ultimate destination of the currency and/or
assets is other Caribbean countries or South America
A few statistics will illustrate the magnitude of the problem posed
by South American cocaine flowing through the Caribbean to the United States.
The Interagency Assessment of Cocaine Movement (IACM), in which the DEA
participates, provides estimates on the cocaine tonnage transiting various
countries including Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, The Bahamas,
and to Cuba. The following table of IACM data provides estimated cocaine
flow in metric tons through these countries to the United States from July
1998 through June 1999.
Estimated Cocaine Flow in Metric Tons from July 1998 through June 1999
|The Dominican Republic||2.411||1.513||3.96||1.95||5.91|
TRAFFICKING THROUGH THE CARIBBEAN TO EUROPE:
The Caribbean region continues to play an important role in the transportation
of cocaine from South America to Europe. Cocaine is transported to Europe
through the Caribbean primarily in commercial container cargo or concealed
in medium-to-large merchant vessels. Spain is the primary destination of
this cocaine. Colombian drug traffickers prefer forming alliances with
Spanish drug traffickers. In Spain, there is no language barrier and the
Colombian drug traffickers can move about with more anonymity than in other
European countries. The Netherlands and Belgium are other focal points
currently used by Colombian drug trafficking organizations to distribute
cocaine to Europe. Colombian organizations exploit the commercial links
that exist between the Netherlands Antilles and the European markets in
Holland and Belgium
Containers are loaded with cocaine in South American ports. The cocaine
is sometimes concealed in the merchandise itself, but more often, in false
compartments constructed within the container. The containers are often
transshipped through various ports in South America, Central America, and
the Caribbean while enroute to European ports. While Spain has remained
the primary initial destination of the cocaine, recent seizures indicate
large cocaine shipments were destined for ports in the Mediterranean and
Large quantities of cocaine are also clandestinely loaded aboard medium
to large merchant vessels in the Caribbean. Merchant vessels destined for
Europe call at various ports in the Caribbean to load legitimate cargo.
At some point in the journey to Europe, the vessels will sail near the
Colombian or Venezuelan Caribbean coasts where go-fast boats rendezvous
with the merchant vessels and load large quantities of cocaine. The cocaine
may then be stored in false compartments constructed in the merchant vessel
and then transported to locations near the European coast. The cocaine
can then be loaded onto go-fast boats and clandestinely off-loaded at various
locations on the European coast
Countries in Europe are experiencing an increase in drug abuse and a
concomitant increase in the flow of cocaine from South America. Over the
past 10 years, cocaine seizures in Europe have increased dramatically.
In 1988, a total of 5.7 metric tons of cocaine HCl was seized in Europe.
In 1997, the total rose to 40 metric tons. This increase in seizures is
an indicator of increased demand for cocaine in Europe. The increase in
demand has driven the price of cocaine in Europe to levels above those
found in the U.S. In 1998, the price range for one kilogram of cocaine
sold in the U.S. was $10,000 to $36,000. During the same period, the price
of cocaine in Europe ranged from a low of $12,000 per kilogram in the Netherlands
to a high of $55,000 per kilogram in Germany. During 1998, the average
price of a kilogram of cocaine in Spain was $41,000. This disparity in
price between Europe and the United States is a significant incentive for
Colombian drug traffickers to expand their marketing efforts in Europe.
CUBA'S ROLE IN THE DRUG TRADE:
The island of Cuba lies in a direct air and maritime path from South
America to Florida. As Cuba expands its foreign trade relations, its territory
will become more vulnerable to exploitation by international criminals
seeking to establish new bases of operation for illegal activities, including
drug trafficking. Understanding these changing trafficking trends is vital
in order to take effective measures to stem the flow of drugs.
While the Government of Cuba's performance in interdicting narcotics
has been mixed, the Cuban Government has recently strengthened agreements
with several governments - including the United Kingdom, Italy, the Bahamas,
and France - as well as the United Nations Office for Drug Control and
Crime Prevention (UNODCCP). Cuban authorities, on occasion, have arrested
individual drug traffickers; but, historically, the Cuban government did
not respond aggressively to incursions by these traffickers into Cuban
territorial waters and airspace. Cuba has argued that it lacks the "naval
means" and other resources to patrol all of its airspace and territorial
waters while, at the same time, it does not routinely permit U.S. interdiction
assets to enter its territory.
Drug traffickers continue to use Cuban waters and airspace to evade
U.S. interdiction assets. Go-fast boats from Jamaica routinely travel just
inside Cuban waters to avoid contact with U.S. vessels. Traffickers also
use small aircraft to transport cocaine from clandestine airfields on the
Guajira Peninsula in Colombia through Cuban air space. The cocaine may
then be airdropped and later retrieved by go-fasts that take the drugs
to The Bahamas for further transshipment to the United States. It should
be noted that, in 1999, the number of these suspected drug over-flights
of Cuban territory has declined compared to the number in 1998
According to Cuban police reporting provided to the Colombian Government,
Cuban law enforcement has made occasional arrests of drug couriers. The
majority of these couriers were transporting kilogram quantities of cocaine
to European countries, although occasional deliveries were made to traffickers
operating in Cuba. Cuban authorities have reported to the Colombian authorities
only limited instances of heroin couriers traveling to Cuba.
Commercial vessels, which transport cocaine from South America to Europe,
may also load legitimate cargo in Cuban ports. These vessels transit other
Caribbean, Central American or South American ports. At some time during
the voyage, the vessel may sail near the Colombian or Venezuelan coast.
Cocaine may then be clandestinely loaded aboard these vessels.
In addressing the role of Cuba in the international drug trade, DEA
must rely on international media sources, as well as other foreign law
enforcement agencies, for much of our information regarding drug arrests
and seizures by Cuban authorities. DEA does not have a presence in Cuba.
Therefore, we have no formal contacts with Cuban authorities, and we cannot
independently corroborate much of the reporting on alleged Cuban involvement
in drug trafficking.
THE CARTAGENA SEIZURE
The December 1998 seizure of 7.254 metric tons of cocaine in the Colombian
port of Cartagena is one example of drugs apparently destined to transit
Cuba -- which has received a great deal of attention. The Colombian National
Police found the cocaine sophisticatedly concealed in compartments within
maritime shipping containers. The containers were manifested for shipment
to Cuba. DEA, and other U.S. counterdrug agencies have been aggressively
and meticulously pursuing the investigation of this cocaine shipment. I
outline below some of the steps we have taken since my last appearance
before this committee. At this point in our investigation, we have no information
that suggests that this shipment was destined for the United States. The
information we do have, which we are attempting to corroborate, indicates
that the shipment was destined for Spain.
The 7.254 metric tons of cocaine destined for Havana, Cuba, and seized
in Cartagena, Colombia in December 1998, was unquestionably a significant
amount of illegal drugs. Investigations by the Colombian National Police,
the DEA Bogota Country Office, the DEA Madrid Country Office, the Spanish
National Police and the Cuban Federal Police, to date, have not developed
direct evidence of the ultimate destination of the cocaine. Drug trafficking
organizations generally do not ship multi-ton cocaine shipments by a specific
route or method without first testing the "pipeline." Information provided
by the Cuban Police, to the Colombian National Police, indicated that the
same companies, involved with the shipment seized in Cartagena, made at
least four previous shipments of containers. In each of these four shipments,
containers that originated in Cartagena were shipped from Cuba to Spain.
Information also provided by the Cuban Police to the Colombian National
Police indicated the Cuban Police searched the premises in Havana of businesses
associated with the Cartagena seizure. The Cuban Police reported the discovery
of four containers that appeared to have been outfitted with false compartments.
The four containers bore the serial numbers of containers shipped from
Cartagena through Cuba to Spain. None of the agencies investigating this
seizure have been able to obtain direct evidence that any of the containers
in the four shipments described above contained cocaine.
DEA is vigorously engaged in a comprehensive investigation of all aspects
of this seizure. We are cooperating extensively with authorities in Colombia
and Spain. Special Agents from DEA Headquarters are assigned to the "Cartagena
seizure investigation." A Senior Supervisory Special Agent is assigned
oversight of the investigation and is coordinating the compilation of all
information involving Cuba. Another Senior Supervisory Special Agent and
a Supervisory Special Agent, as well as, two Intelligence Research Specialists,
are also assigned to assist in this effort. This group is assisting DEA
Headquarters, the DEA Bogota Country Office, the DEA Madrid Country Office,
and other foreign and domestic DEA offices to coordinate all aspects of
this investigation in a timely manner.
The DEA Office of International Operations is working closely with the
DEA Bogota Country Office and the DEA Madrid Country Office to review all
existing documents, assist in ensuring all previous leads are followed,
and in developing new leads. I want to thank the Committee for the information
you provided, including audio tapes and transcripts. I assure the Committee
that all information derived from these sources will be factored into our
A priority of DEA is to obtain independent corroboration of all information
and evidence acquired in this investigation. This will include working
to corroborate all foreign police reports to the greatest extent possible.
All of the reports are being reviewed by the Headquarters Intelligence
Research Specialists assigned to this investigation.
The DEA Madrid Country Office, the DEA Bogota Country Office and the
DEA Office of International Operations coordinated the December 1999 visit
to Colombia of Spanish authorities. The Spanish authorities, the Colombian
officials, and the DEA met to review evidence and to discuss sources and
methods for developing new information and evidence regarding the alleged
drug trafficking between Colombia and Spain.
In any investigation, the DEA does not rule out any possibility until
the investigation is concluded. As an investigation proceeds, DEA investigators
review all available information. This review provides DEA investigators
with an assessment of the information and investigative direction to follow.
As new information is developed, the investigative direction is always
subject to change.
The primary focus, after the information is obtained, is to develop
evidence that can be used in criminal prosecutions and corroborate evidence
to meet evidentiary standards. DEA investigators always seek to locate
any information or evidence that provides a factual basis for criminal
charges. If there is doubt about the validity of information or evidence,
DEA investigators seek to either prove or disprove it. The DEA is applying
these investigative principles to the Cartagena investigation.
There have been many instances in which evidence was discovered in the
latter stages of an investigation, resulting in a change in the direction
of the investigation. There have also been instances in which evidence
initially determined to be factual has been disproved, resulting in a change
in the direction of the investigation. While I cannot comment on the details
of an ongoing investigation in a public forum, I assure you that DEA continues
to expend every effort on the investigation of the Cartagena shipment.
Now, I would like to have SAC Vigil discuss issues specific to Puerto