William E. Ledwith
Chief of International Operations
Drug Enforcement Administration
United States Department of Justice
House Government Reform Committee, Subcommittee on Criminal Justice,
Drug Policy, and Human Resources
November 17, 1999
Chairman Mica and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity
to appear before you today and as always, thank you for your continued
support of drug law enforcement. The subcommittee is today hearing testimony
on Cuba's links to drug trafficking.
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. A portion of this smuggling
transits Cuban waters or air space by virtue of its geographic proximity
between the source zone countries and the United States.
The subcommittee is interested in DEA's knowledge of any steps taken
by the Cuban government to counter the drug trafficking threat. This is
difficult to assess because DEA has no office in Cuba and no established
liaison with Cuban law enforcement authorities. Cuba has counternarcotics
agreements with several other nations, but no such treaties with the United
States. Cuba does work, on a case by case basis, with U.S. law enforcement
and interdiction agencies.
As a law enforcement agency, the DEA does not make recommendations whether
to certify or not to certify countries for cooperation in counter drug
efforts. We do, however, annually provide to the Attorney General factual
summaries and our objective assessment of a country's law enforcement capability
to combat international drug trafficking.
The nature and extent of the drug threat from Cuba
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 operations 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 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 of Drug Control Policy (UNDCP). Although Cuban
authorities on occasion have arrested individual drug traffickers, historically,
the Cuban government was not aggressive in responding to incursions by
these traffickers into Cuban territorial water 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.
It is important to understand that much of our information regarding
drug arrests and seizures by Cuban authorities has been gleaned through
international media sources as well as other foreign law enforcement agencies
which is a result of not having 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 most recent case related to Cuba is the Colombian National Police
(CNP) seizure of 7.2 metric tons of cocaine in Cartagena, Colombia, on
December 3, 1998. Allow me to clarify for the subcommittee the limited
extent of the information currently available to the DEA on this case.
This seizure is part of an active investigation being aggressively conducted
by the CNP, Spanish National Police (SNP) and the DEA.
Currently, DEA has no information to suggest that this shipment of 7.2
metric tons of cocaine was destined for the United States. Limited and
as yet uncorroborated information indicates that the cocaine was bound
for Spain. This information includes previous bills of lading for the containers;
previous movements of the merchant vessel; Cuban police examination of
containers in Havana that contained false walls; and the Cuban authorities'
seizure of $107,000.00 in Spanish currency in one of the containers. At
this stage of the investigation, DEA has no evidence regarding the final
destination of the cocaine-laden containers beyond Cuba. Our best assessment
of all available information currently indicates that Spain was the most
likely destination for the cocaine shipment after it reached Cuba. We are
certain that the shipment was intended for Cuba as an intermediary stop.
At this time, DEA has no evidence indicating that high ranking officials
of the Cuban government were complicit in this shipment. The drugs were
well enough concealed that Cuban officials might not have ever become aware
of their presence, had the shipment not been seized in Cartagena.
In conclusion, DEA will continue to evaluate the challenge to drug law
enforcement posed by the constantly changing dynamics of the international
drug trade in the Caribbean. A striking feature of the trade is the drug
traffickers' ability and resourcefulness to respond and adapt to law enforcement
operations. However, DEA continues to develop and implement flexible responses
to this threat as evidenced by our most recent success in Operations Millennium
and Columbus. These operations underscore DEA's ability to coordinate sophisticated,
international drug enforcement operations resulting in the arrests of some
of the most powerful narcotics traffickers operating in Colombia and the
Caribbean Islands. In similar fashion, DEA continues to aggressively pursue
all investigative leads rising out of bilateral investigations in Colombia
and Spain regarding the seizure of 7.2 metric tons of cocaine.
As always, Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the opportunity to appear before
you. I appreciate the interest you and the subcommittee have shown in DEA
and in drug law enforcement. I will gladly answer any questions you may