Is Nicaragua winning the war on drugs?

President Ortega seems to think so, but a new State Department report reveals that drug seizures were down last year

Amid calls for an alternative drug-control policy for Central America, President Daniel Ortega insists Nicaragua can’t afford to give up the fight because it’s winning the war on drugs.

“Nicaragua, with the people, the army and the police, is fighting drug trafficking and organized crime and defeating them,” Ortega said during a speech to the military last week. “We already know what Sandino’s slogan was; Sandino said, ‘I won’t sellout and I won’t give up.”

Despite his steadfast support for the war on drugs, Ortega’s view of the issue appears to be a bit quaint and outdated. The president maintains that Nicaragua is still only a “transit country” that doesn’t have a drug problem of its own.

Yet according to the U.S. State Department’s 2012 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, released earlier this month, Nicaragua has become a producer of crack cocaine, methamphetamines and marijuana. The report also found, “Drug consumption in Nicaragua rose in 2011, particularly on the Atlantic coast where the transshipment of drugs is highest.”

Nicaraguan authorities last year seized $5 million in cash and $11 million drug assets—including 50 vehicles, six airplanes, 15 boats and $900,000 worth of livestock from farming operations that were fronts for the drug trade. Nicaragua also arrested 168 individuals for drug-related crimes.

While those numbers are impressive, Nicaragua’s actual drug seizures decreased last year, according to the State Department.

“Border security remained a concern. Border police officials blamed a decrease in seizures on the lack of personnel, poor working conditions and low morale at the border. Corruption also likely contributed to the underreporting of seizures,” the State Department’s drug report reads.

The States Department also raises concerns that Nicaragua’s overly politicized judiciary presents “another impediment to serious law enforcement efforts in the country.”

The Nicaraguan Navy and the police’s Mobile Inspection Unit received higher praise in this year’s report.

“Nicaragua and the United States share common national security interests and in 2011 the (Nicaraguan Police) began to exhibit a greater willingness to cooperate with the United States on law enforcement issues. The Nicaraguan Navy’s success with interdictions continued and demonstrated the willingness of Nicaragua to confront drug trafficking organizations,” the State Department report reads.

So while the U.S. considers Nicaragua a partner in the drug war, it claims the country still has work to do before it can claim victory in the drug war.

“Nicaraguan achievements will increase if the government places greater emphasis on combating corruption and money laundering; professionalizing and removing political influences on the judiciary and the Prosecutor General’s office,” the report reads.

  • Lacks Analysis

    First of all, seizures are a poor metric for deciding whether a country is winning a drug war or not. The rest of the report, which the article fails to reflect, is quite clear that Nicaragua is fortifying various aspects of crime fighting/investigation/prevention/rehabilitation; that its commitment to and participation in regional partnerships/dialogues is increasing; that US cooperation with the Navy and NNP is at an all time high; and that Nicaraguan regional leadership vis-a-vis sharing best practices is actually welcome by the USG.

    How the author can read the entire State Department report, or even its Conclusion (Section D) and come away with this piece is beyond me…

    This is either lazy or flat out biased reporting, disappointing in either case. Nicaragua is widely recognized as a regional leader in the fight against drug trafficking and organized crime by various countries and US agencies for a reason…and seizures are only part of that story. Even the best performing countries in the drug fight face significant obstacles, and everyone in the policy community understands that. Success or ‘winning the fight’ does not consist in the total absence of associated harm. Drug trafficking and organized crime constitute an enormous threat to the hemisphere, that requires a coordinated hemispheric response, and in that light, the Report makes clear that Nicaragua is certainly doing its part, albeit with some areas that could improve. How does that lead to this headline/article?

    Read it for yourself, compare it to the sections on other Central American countries, and come to your own conclusions:

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  • de Las Sombras

    Anyone else remember images from the 80’s of EPS loading drugs from Columbia onto planes bound for the USA?.

    It is good to think that Nicaragua and it’s political leadership is willing to take a stand in the regional combat of illegal drug trafficking… BUT.. like the drug itself, trafficking (be it with open arms of turning a blind eye) can be insidious in it’s way of working, especially if one may have had a ‘ta$te’ of the “reward$”….

    Nicaragua has a checked past and so does our current political puppeteers… (and no more or less so than any other counrty!!) and while certainly it is possible to ‘clean-up’ one’s act perhaps a more pertinent question is… Can a leopard really change it’s spots?

    “Nicaragua’s participation in drug and narcotics trafficking into the United States [as official but secret policy of the Sandinista government] sprang from Raul Castro’s meeting with Humberto Ortega. The narcotics operation itself was placed under the Nicaraguan intelligence servce, with Tomas Borge, the Minister of Interior and head of the intelligence service, in charge of the operation, and his deputy, Frederico Vaughan, the chief of staff of the operation. Frederico Vaughan was indicted in 1986 in the US District Court, Southern District of Florida, along with Carlos Lehder, the Ochoa family, Pablo Escobar-Gaviria, and others on twenty-four counts of producing and smuggling cocaine into the United States, conspiracy, obstructing justice, and related crimes.

    Baldizon’s debriefing by US officials is particularly revealing. From 1982 until his defection on July 1, 1985, Baldizon was the chief investigator of internal abuses within the Nicaraguan Ministry of Interior. In 1984, Baldizon’s office received reports that linked Interior Minister Tomas Borge with cocaine trafficking. Baldizon was instructed to investigate this as a compromise of a state secret. He thought this was a mistake, because he could not believe his government was involved in narcotics trafficking. Thus, he went to the chief of his office, Captain Charlotte Baltodano Egner, and asked her if it should not be investigated as a slander against the minister. Baltodano was taken aback and said that the office should not have received the report. The fact that Borge had involved the government in narcotics trafficking was highly classified, she explained, and known in the Ministry only to Borge, his assistant [Frederico Vaughan], the chiefs of police and state security, and to her. Outside the Ministry, it was known only to members of the FSLN’s National Directorate. Baldizon also provided additional details concerning Borge and cocaine trafficking and the use of the money “for mounting clandestine operations by the Intelligence and State Security Department outside Nicaragua.”

    *Alvaro Jose Baldizon Aviles, formerly Chief Investigator of the Special Investigations Commission of the. Nicaraguan Ministry of the Interior, died in 1988, in California.


    “Sandinista drug trafficking is handled by the Ministry of the Interior under Borge’s direct control. In 1982, this ministry ruled that all cocaine, precious metals, and U.S. dollars recovered by the Ministry’s Department of Criminal Investigations (DIC) must be sent to Borge’s office. The proceeds from the sale of this contraband is used to help finance international clandestine operations.”
    (Lima El Comericio, January 28, 1986, p. A2 16).