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Panama Ramps Up Anti-Narcotics Operations along Coast

By: Thabata Molina - Sep 23, 2015, 12:00 pm
So far in 2015, Panamanian authorities have seized 12,050 kilograms of narcotics.
So far in 2015, Panamanian authorities have seized 12,050 kilograms of narcotics. (CB24.tv)

EspañolThe Panamanian coastline is under constant surveillance by authorities on the lookout for illegal drug-trafficking operations. In the last six years alone, the National Air and Naval Service of Panama (SENAN) has confiscated over 120 tons of narcotics. So far in 2015, the SENAN has seized 12,050 kilos, surpassing last year’s figure of 10,364 kilograms by 16 percent.

“Drug trafficking is a business that runs 24/7,” SENAN Director Ramón Nonato López explains. “In Central America, the market is active and drugs are in high demand 12 months out of the year. But thanks to patrol efforts, confiscations have increased. We have the area covered to prevent shipments from filtering in.”

SENAN officials have so far arrested 76 individuals this year on 26 vessels, while in 2014, authorities detained just 45 individuals on 20 vessels.

According to Nanato López, 63 out of 76 arrests involved Colombian nationals. “Panamanians take second place, but there are few of them in comparison to Colombians,” he says.

“In 2015, we arrested eight Panamanians and five individuals of diverse nationalities — Dominicans and Hondurans, for example. Last year, we detained Ecuadorians and Nicaraguans, but the majority are usually Colombian.”

Nanato López also maintains that collaborative efforts among authorities from Colombia, Panama, and the United States have contributed to tightening operations and increasing the number of drug seizures in the region.

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Constant Change

“We try to change our strategies on a daily basis, because drug traffickers do the same. Our responsibility is to act preemptively to prevent these shipments from coming onto Panamanian soil,” the SENAN director says. For security reasons, Nonato López says he cannot reveal any further details to protect the integrity of on-going operations.

The official highlights that while the packaging style that drug traffickers use remains the same, they have changed strategies in their efforts to reach US coastal regions. SENAN operatives can now spot vessels 50 to 60 nautical miles away from the coast, when in the past this did not occur.

“Confiscations have increased due to this as well, since these groups are spotted by patrolmen, because they seem willing to put themselves at risk more and more each day.”

According to SENAN officials, the 120 tons of narcotics they confiscated over the last six years included 117.4 tons of cocaine and just three of marijuana. Drug seizures along the Panamanian coast reached their peak in 2010, when authorities confiscated approximately 31 tons of narcotics during a 12-month span.

Translated by Vanessa Arita.

Thabata Molina Thabata Molina

Thabata Molina is a Venezuelan reporter who focuses on public safety, violence, and penitentiary conflicts. She has contributed to national newspapers such as El Nacional and El Universal for 12 years. Originally from Caracas, she now lives in Panama. Follow @Thabatica.