News Americas, WASHINGTON, D.C., Fri. Mar. 11, 2011: In several Latin American and Caribbean countries, corruption remains an obstacle in the fight against narco-trafficking, according to the U.S. State Department.
The Department, in its latest International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, insists that bribery of many public officials, including law enforcement and judicial officers, undermines the efforts against drug trafficking in the Latin Americas region, where poverty and low wages also remain an issue.
The report points to what it terms as major illicit drug producing and/or drug-transit count nations such as Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela, as places where corruption is a problem.
In Bolivia, which President Obama says has failed miserably to fight drug traffickers in 2010, the report says incidents of corruption among police officers there increased since the departure of the DEA in 2009.
Of the more than 500 officers polygraphed in 2010 in bolivia, 93 officers failed the exam and were removed from Boliva’s Fuerza Especial de Lucha Contra el Narcotráfico or drug fighting unit. Twenty additional officers who failed the polygraph were placed on administrative duties, pending removal.
The U.S. also claimed that in Venezuela, public corruption continues to be a major issue and appears to have contributed to drug trafficking organizations’ use of Venezuela to transit drugs in 2010. They point to the November 2010 appointment by President Chavez of Henry Rangel Silva to a four-star equivalent rank of general in chief. Rangel Silva was designated under the Kingpin Act by the U.S. Treasury Department in September 2008 for materially assisting the narcotics trafficking activities of the FARC.
In Mexico, the U.S. says corruption is most rampant there too, with analysts pointing to the case of Gregory Sanchez, the former Mayor of Cancún and candidate for Governor of Quintana Roo, who was among those arrested for alleged narcotics trafficking ties and money laundering.
While in Columbia, the world’s largest producer and exporter of cocaine, corruption of some officials occurs, often instigated by drug trafficking organizations, the U.S. said.
On February 9, 2010, the Colombian government arrested Ramiro Antury, a military lawyer, for receiving approximately $150,900 a month from the Rastrojos criminal organization, in return for intercepting security agencies’ telephone calls and feeding information back to narcotics traffickers.
And in two separate cases, the Colombian government also indicted Colonel Juan Carlos Martinez Correal and Major Giovanny Enrique Pinzon Vargas of the CNP for narcotics trafficking.
In Guatemala, the U.S. says corruption remains endemic in public institutions and society as a whole. The report points to two former presidents of congress facing charges for their alleged involvement in an embezzlement scandal while former President Alfonso Portillo is being prosecuted for embezzlement and money laundering during his administration.
In Haiti, the United States government says it continues to receive reports of actively serving HNP officers providing security for drug traffickers using clandestine landing strips or for transporting cocaine from one location to another.
“This pervasive corruption is a serious impediment to conducting effective counternarcotics operations in Haiti,” said the report.
Pointing to over 88 prosecutions of police for criminal misconduct in an effort to combat corruption and abuse in the National Police, the U.S. also cited Honduras as a nation where the scourge is a problem, while in Nicaragua, the U.S. claims that cash rich criminals have acquired a cloak of impunity through bribery and extortion of judicial and law enforcement officials while detained drug suspects are regularly freed after a short detention, a practice that undercuts law enforcement effectiveness.
In the South American nation of Guyana, the U.S. did not implicate any government officials or point to any specific case, but said there are reports implicating police personally retaining drugs from seizures while others point to high government officials that are not investigated and go unpunished.
Corruption in Jamaica, the U.S. claimed, continues to be of major concern to the GOJ, the USG, and most Jamaicans. But the report states that an improving anti-corruption stance within Jamaican customs enforcement, the JCF, the Jamaica Tax Administration, and the Office of the Contractor General has shown encouraging signs.
In Suriname where civil servants, including police and military officers, are inadequately compensated, the U.S. drug report said many are open to bribery.
“The judicial system too is not exempt from this, according to the report, and this is a significant concern and is the greatest barrier to effective prosecution of drug traffickers and producers,” stated analysts.
For instance, two high level officials had previously been convicted in absentia in The Netherlands on drug trafficking charges, including President Bouterse and Member of Parliament, Ronnie Brunswijk. France also has an outstanding arrest warrant for Brunswijk while two former police officers of the police team used to nab drug dealers, were prosecuted 2010 for stealing cocaine from a police vault while it was being held as evidence from a large drug bust.
In The DR, the U.S. says corruption remains endemic with numerous law enforcement, military, and government officials implicated in a range of corrupt activities, including drug trafficking and money laundering. They point to 217 police officers who were dismissed for either testing positive for drug use, abuse of authority, or corruption and another 408 officers for similar reasons.
In Panama, the new Panamanian National Police Internal Affairs system produced quick results, with over 50 officers – including some senior leaders – removed for corruption in the latter half of 2010 while in Peru, the Peruvian Congress is in the process of investigating former Minister of Interior Fernando Barrios for corruption.
In Paraguay, the U.S. points to the September 2010 case of Mendi Pavao, where a three-judge panel absolved and released the drug trafficker after an alleged $1 million payoff while in Brazil, the Attorney General’s office filed 3,706 actions to recover a total of $1.5 billion suspected to have been diverted by corruption. According to the AGU’s website, over $340 million of that amount was found in the bank accounts of mayors, former mayors, public servants, and business executives involved in illegal operations.
Over in the Eastern Caribbean, while there were no convictions or arrests of government or police officials, U.S. analysts say they “believe drug trafficking organizations continue to elude law enforcement agencies through bribery, influence or coercion.”
The same was true of Trinidad and Tobago, where while there were no charges of drug-related corruption filed against senior government officials, the U.S. says most of Trinidad and Tobago’s law enforcement and customs officials are not rigorously vetted on an ongoing basis.
Belize was rapped for having no laws that specifically deal with narcotics-related corruption with U.S. officials pointing out that the Prevention of Corruption Law deals mainly with corruption in public office related to public gain, use of public funds and code of conduct, leaving law enforcement officials with inadequate compensation vulnerable to bribery.
Drug trafficking continues to grow in Latin America and the Caribbean despite decades of anti-drug efforts by the United States and partner governments and the production and trafficking of popular illicit drugs – cocaine, marijuana, opiates, and methamphetamine – generates a multi-billion dollar black market in which Latin American criminal and terrorist organizations thrive and engage in gun battles over turf.