By Jon Dougherty
(TNS) Cartels from Mexico and South America have regularly used sea routes to smuggle cocaine and other drugs into the United States, but thanks to President Donald Trump, shipments by sea are expected to dramatically increase beginning this year.
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That’s not a slight against the president. This tactical adjustment is no doubt largely due to his focus on substantially better border security; what with the deployment of additional personnel and the steady building of new fencing, the cartels seem to be somewhat shifting away from drug smuggling over land.
As H. I. Sutton writes in Forbes, the U.S. Coast Guard, Border Patrol, Customs and Border Enforcement and other elements of the Department of Homeland security involved with partner nations interdicting drugs are already seeing seaborne smuggling ramp up via ‘submarines’ and other hard-to-spot craft:
As the U.S. P-3 Orion patrol plane flew by, the crew of the narco-submarine began throwing bales of cocaine overboard. It wasn’t enough to destroy the evidence. All three crewmen were later picked up by a Costa Rican Coast Guard cutter. This drug sub interdiction, in the Eastern Pacific on January 2, was the first of 2020.
In many respects it was typical, combining the efforts of various U.S. Forces and partner nations. There is broad cooperation between the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Navy, DEA and local partner forces throughout Latin America. But this doesn’t appear to be deterring the drug trafficking organizations.
@CovertShores Public Security authorities capture the first semi-submersible of the year, detain three Ecuadorian crew members and seize drug cargo
The second blow of the year against international drug trafficking was recorded on Thursday, January 2 at 11:04 pm, when the crew of pic.twitter.com/RToNffT01M
— Hagakure (@fortunateson71) January 4, 2020
The craft in question aren’t really submarines, they’re “LPVs” or Low Profile Vessels designed to go fast and evade radar. And the cartels have a lot of them. The strategy has changed in recent years as it’s gotten tougher to smuggle by land; more LPVs carrying less cargo, that way if any one of them are interdicted by authorities, the hit taken isn’t too expensive.
And many more get through:
The number of narco submarine incidents has risen sharply in recent years. 2018 saw 35 reported, and 2019 topped that at 36. For every sub stopped, many more get though. My expectation is that 2020 will continue at these high levels.
Coca harvests in Colombia have increased in recent years. According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), in 2017-18 (the latest data available) it was almost three times higher than in 2008. And the United States has remained a major market for the resulting cocaine. Submarines are not the only method used to smuggle the drugs northward, but they appear increasingly common.
The only way shipping by sea increases is because doing so by land is increasingly dangerous and, importantly to the cartels, less profitable. That’s not to say land smuggling is ending anytime soon, but the shift in tactics is telling.
So yes, Trump’s border enforcement seems to be working. But one result of that success is an increase in seaborne smuggling, apparently.
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