At a homeland security subcommittee hearing Thursday, lawmakers called on Attorney General Eric Holder to create a counternarcotics strategy for the Caribbean, which was described as an “open road for drug traffickers and terrorists.”
“Without a comprehensive strategy to counter the cartels increasing presence in the Caribbean,” said Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and Management, “the region could continue to spiral out of control.”
McCaul noted that the same drug smuggling routes made famous by the 1980s television show "Miami Vice" are back in style among traffickers. In fiscal year 2011, authorities seized 165,000 metric tons of illegal drugs in the Caribbean, Bahamas, and the Gulf of Mexico, an increase of 36 percent over four years. Eighty percent of cocaine moved through Puerto Rico is destined for U.S. cities on the East Coast, the chairman said.
As the drugs move through these areas, crime and instability follow.
“On average one person is murdered on the island every 7.5 hours, and at least half of those murders involve drug trafficking organizations,” McCaul said. ”Last year there were 30 homicides for every 100,000 Puerto Ricans. This rate is far higher than any state in the mainland.”
McCaul also raised the specter of more dangerous materials traveling on these routes to the United States. “The Caribbean region is also susceptible to smuggling nuclear, radiological, chemical, and biological materials, and it could easily be used as staging areas for violence against the United States.”
Drug cartels and traffickers use many means of conveyances to smuggle drugs through the Caribbean and into the U.S., including drug subs, go-fast boats, small airplanes, and even commercial airliners. Drug subs are a particular worry for those Department of Homeland Security components with responsiblities in the Caribbean.
“This makes them a dangerous drug conveyance that could potentially be adapted for transporting other more serious security threats to the United States,” according to testimony submitted jointly by the Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.