(posted March 5, 3:15 p.m.)- Despite Nicaragua’s efforts to build a firewall against drug trafficking and narco violence, the United States estimates that more than 80% of the primary flow of the cocaine trafficked to the United States last year passed through the Central American corridor, according to the U.S. State Department’s 2013 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report.
“Nicaragua faces limited law enforcement capabilities and sparsely populated regions that are difficult to police. These factors provide an opportune environment for Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTOs) to transit drugs, weapons, and currency, as well as to establish clandestine labs and warehouse facilities,” reads the Nicaragua chapter of the US drug report, which was released today in Washington. “The unemployment rate on the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua is over 55 percent, creating a favorable climate for drug traffickers to receive logistical support from isolated communities with few sources of legitimate income. Judicial corruption and political interference remain impediments to meaningful prosecution of narcotics trafficking.”
The report says Nicaragua remains “primarily a transshipment point for illegal drugs,” but warns that the country is “also at risk for increased domestic drug consumption.”
“Nicaragua remained at risk of increased drug consumption, particularly on the Atlantic coast where transshipment increased. Domestic use of crack cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana were on the rise in 2012, particularly among 16 to 35 year olds, according to Nicaraguan community leaders and law enforcement,” the report reads. “The Nicaraguan government focused limited education and law enforcement resources on the Hispanic Pacific Coast regions of Nicaragua, neglecting the largely indigenous communities of the Atlantic Coast.”
The report says that Nicaragua’s “most significant drug interdictions occurred at sea,” but that “border security continued to be a concern in 2012.”
Overall, Nicaragua’s drug-bust numbers in 2012 were similar to those of 2011, the report found.
“Nicaraguan authorities seized 9.3 metric tons (MT) of cocaine (up from 8.8 MT in 2011), 986 kilograms (kg) of marijuana, 4 kg of crack, and 13 kg of heroin. Authorities also reported eradicating 43,252 marijuana plants and reportedly neutralized 14 drug trafficking cells. Seizures of bulk currency and other assets increased in 2012. Nicaraguan authorities seized $13 million in U.S. currency, up from $5 million in 2011, in addition to 528 vehicles; 46 boats; 195 illegal firearms; 192 real estate properties; and 1,444 items of communication equipment.”
What Nicaragua does with those seized criminal assets “remains problematic,” the report says. “The Nicaraguan National Assembly passed legislation (Law 793) authorizing the creation of a new financial intelligence unit, which could contribute towards more transparent management of assets. However, there is still concern over potential government abuse of the proposed unit.”
The U.S. recognized the Nicaraguan government’s efforts to “publicize and enforce the country’s open-records law as a tool against official corruption tied to drugs and other crimes.” It also acknowledged Nicaragua’s efforts to enforce legislation that regulates the prevention, investigation, and prosecution of organized crime, as well as the administration of seized, forfeited and abandoned assets. “In the first prosecution involving a politically appointed government official, 21 defendants, including the official, were found guilty under Law 735,” the US report says, referring to the Fariñas case.
The U.S. also noted the National Police’s creation of five new police divisions in 2012: Border Security Division; Farm Security Division; Tourism Division; Counter-intelligence Division; and Embassy Protection Division.
The cancelation of the U.S. transparency waiver last June affected joint drug-war efforts, the report notes.“In June 2012, due to ongoing concerns about fiscal transparency within the Government of Nicaragua, the U.S. Department of State ceased providing certain funds to Nicaraguan government agencies. This decision, mandated by U.S. law, led to phasing out of several bilateral programs during the second half of the year. In response, Embassy Managua developed plans to redirect counternarcotics efforts towards drug education and other similar non-government demand reduction programs in 2013.”
In conclusion, the U.S. report says that Nicaragua “faces many challenges related to illegal drugs, including the need to combat corruption, address judiciary independence, reduce drug demand and combat drug trafficking.”
“Nascent efforts to root out official corruption and increase transparency must be reinforced, and the capacities and professionalism of the NNP and the Prosecutor General’s office must be further strengthened,” the report reads.