FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida. – A U.S. Coast Guard vessel offloaded more than 30 metric tons of cocaine and marijuana worth an estimated $1 billion on Thursday that were seized at sea during a months-long deployment in the off the coast of South America.
The transport of illegal narcotics brought home by US Coast Guard cutter James was one of the largest in recent memory, a reflection of an increasingly sophisticated US arsenal that includes powerful drones and special infrared cameras capable of detecting the heat of small vessels loaded with cocaine.
But it also highlights a recent surge in narcotics from Colombia, a close US ally and the world’s top producer of cocaine.
Top Biden administration counternarcotics officials traveled to South Florida to welcome back the ship’s crew and tout the Coast Guard’s role in interdiction of drugs before they reach the streets of America.
“We hit drug dealers where it hurts them the most: their pocketbooks,” said Dr. Rahul Gupta, chief of the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Gupta said the Biden administration is seeking to increase the U.S. government’s budget to bolster the nation’s drug treatment infrastructure and reduce the supply of synthetic opioids like fentanyl and other drugs.
But recent records from the Coast Guard, federal law enforcement and partner nations also underscore how little the flow of cocaine from Latin America has abated since President Richard Nixon declared the war on drugs half a century ago.
Coca cultivation in Colombia in 2020 soared to 245,000 hectares (945 square miles), enough to produce 1,010 metric tons of cocaine, according to the latest White House report on crop trends in the Andean region. As recently as 2014, potential output was less than half that amount. Production in Peru and Bolivia has also increased steadily.
Admiral Karl Schultz, the commander of the US Coast Guard, said those numbers would be even higher, and the destabilizing impact on the region of transnational criminal organizations would be even worse, without US interdiction efforts.
“Does it matter? It absolutely matters because it kind of keeps a lid on things,” he said.
He was taken over by Ambassador Todd Robinson, who heads the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.
“It’s not always just about seizures,” said Robinson, who was previously the top US diplomat in Guatemala and Venezuela, two major transit areas for Colombian cocaine. “It’s also about building the capacity of our partners.
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