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Continued US concern over Bahamas aviation sector, drug activity

Meanwhile, huge increases in cocaine and marijuana seizures in The Bahamas not only speak to the effectiveness of anti-drug operations, they also suggest a possibility that traffickers are establishing new sources for marijuana destined for both local and international markets.

The assessments were contained in the 2015 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, an annual report provided by the Department of State to the US Congress. It describes the steps taken during the previous year by the governments of nearly 90 countries, including The Bahamas, to reduce illicit narcotics production, trafficking and use. The 2015 report was released on March 18.

The report again stated that aviation routes are a cause for concern, asserting that small, privately owned and operated planes ferry loads of cocaine from and between significant source countries in South America into the Caribbean.

“Law enforcement information suggests that drug trafficking organizations sometimes utilize airdrops and remote airfields to deliver large cocaine shipments to the Turks and Caicos Islands and to The Bahamas from Venezuela and Colombia,” the State Department reported.

The report also noted that Customs and Border Protection officers working at pre-clearance facilities at the Nassau and Freeport international airports have interdicted cocaine, marijuana, and currency.

“To attract tourism from its Spanish-speaking neighbors, The Bahamas concluded an agreement in 2011 to allow Panama-based Copa Airlines to begin daily flights between Nassau and Panama. The flights remain a transshipment route for contraband smuggling,” the 2015 report said. The report specifically highlighted activities in supply reduction, noting that under Operation Bahamas Turks and Caicos (OPBAT) US law enforcement agencies integrate with the Royal Bahamas Police Force (RBPF) to gather intelligence, conduct investigations, and execute interdictions.

These operations are supported by marine, technical, and other resources provided through US assistance programs: the State Department points out that given the small population and significant territory to cover, pooling US and Bahamian resources and knowledge are essential to efficient deterrence and interdiction.

“In 2014, OPBAT operations in The Bahamas led to the seizure of 1.59 metric tons (MT) of cocaine; 746.8 MT of marijuana; 738,000 marijuana plants; 1.54 kilograms (kg) of heroin; 32 kg of hashish; 7.94 kg of ecstasy; 92 arrests, and $441,264 in currency. This represented a significant increase in seized cocaine and marijuana over 2013, when 1.01 MT and 27.92 MT were seized respectively. In addition, the number of marijuana plants destroyed via manual eradication surpassed the total number of plants eradicated in 2012 and 2013 combined, a possible indicator that traffickers are establishing new sources for marijuana destined for both local and international markets,” the State Department said.

The report also spoke to investigations that reveal Bahamian drug trafficking organizations use the Turks and Caicos Islands as a transshipment point.

“Strong familial connections between the Turks and Caicos Islands and The Bahamas, coupled with direct flights between Haiti and the Turks and Caicos Islands, result in many Bahamian smugglers traveling to Haiti via the Turks and Caicos Islands with large amounts of cash for future smuggling ventures. The Turks and Caicos Islands represent a regional vulnerability due to a lack of sufficient law enforcement resources,” the State Department asserted.

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