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From St. Kitts to Suriname, Caribbean Drug Runners Try to Evade the Law
Diálogo / September 2, 2011

By Larry Luxner

Caribbean cocaine smugglers are finding ever more brazen ways of getting drugs past customs agents — with officials in the past few weeks discovering the illicit white powder hidden in everything from iron pipes to Hindu religious objects.

On Aug. 16, anti-narcotics police in English-speaking Guyana seized more than 72 kilos of cocaine stashed in the false bottoms of havan kunds — traditional metal urns filled with wood and camphor. The square, cast-iron receptacles, which are normally used to light fires during Hindu rituals, were to have been shipped to North America.

Seelall Persaud, assistant commissioner at the criminal investigations unit of the Guyana Police Force, said cocaine was found in 148 of 426 kunds, and that it had a street value of $2.4 million. Persaud said the man who was arrested in the case refused to cooperate. Asked by local press whether the cocaine was prepared specifically for export, Persaud replied that “the fact of the concealment suggests that.” He declined to say whether the destination was the United States or Canada.

The married couple arrested in the probe, along with two teenage children, operates a taxi service along Guyana’s East Coast Demerara region.

On Aug. 29, the Dominican Republic’s National Drug Control Agency seized 97 packages of cocaine hidden inside 14 iron bars that were being shipped from the port of Haina to Barcelona, Spain, as part of a consignment of scrap metal. Roberto Lebrón, spokesman for the DNCD, said the 103 kilos of cocaine was found in one container alone, and that other freight containers in the same shipment are also suspected of carrying drugs. Lebrón said the agency’s president, Maj. Gen. Rolando Rosado Mateo, personally directed the operation — which represents the second seizure of cocaine on the docks at Haina this week.

The Dominican Republic was also the source of a suspicious container seized Aug. 29 by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials in San Juan, Puerto Rico. While inspecting the M/V Sydney Express, CBP officers noticed a discrepancy between the ship’s arrival manifest and a container seal. Upon opening the container for further examination, they found four large duffel bags containing 125 packages of narcotics, including 135.2 kilos of cocaine worth $3.38 million.

Later that same afternoon, two more duffel bags were found in another container on the ship. Those bags contained 49 packages of drugs, including 51 kilos of cocaine worth $1.07 million, and two kilos of heroin worth $164,800.

On Aug. 17, DNCD agents seized 810 kilos of cocaine during a raid in a residential area of Santo Domingo. Some of the drugs were hidden in a closet, and the rest were found in eight sacks in a black sport-utility vehicle. Nelson Toribio Custodio, 34, was arrested, said DNCD officials, who also recovered an Uzi submachine gun, a revolver and a Municipal Police uniform from the house.

On Aug. 11, police on Grand Bahama Island seized 147 pounds of cocaine worth $1.2 million. The drugs had been stashed in a shipping crate at the Freeport Container Port.

“As a result of reported anomalies within a container, the container was opened, and a search was conducted which led to the discovery of two large black duffel bags containing square tape packages suspected of being cocaine,” said a statement from the Royal Bahamas Police Force. The container originated in Peru and was destined for Canada.

Earlier this month, Jamaican customs authorities confiscated 65 kilos of cocaine worth $1.5 million that had originated in Suriname. This marks the second time in two months that drugs have been found aboard the M/V Vega Azurit. The latest seizure took place at the Kingston docks, in a five-hour operation involving Customs and several other agencies. The drugs were apparently hidden in a shipment of several hundred logs from the Aroalma Forest Producers Association. Less than half a year ago, Jamaican officials seized 112.5 kilos of narcotics worth $2.5 million from that same vessel.

In mid-August, Surinamese authorities intercepted around 30 kilos of cocaine at Paramaribo’s Johan Adolf Pengel International Airport in three separate cases. The first involved 21 kilos discovered during a routine scan. The second resulted in the arrest of two vegetable exporters who attempted to smuggle 7.5 kilos of cocaine in a shipment of okra. In the third case, a middle-aged Dutchman was arrested with liquid cocaine in two perfume bottles and 116 pellets in his stomach.

On the tiny Caribbean island of Nevis — the smaller of the twin-island nation of St. Kitts & Nevis — police discovered and uprooted 5,000 marijuana plants ranging up to 11 feet high, with a total street value of around $2 million. Kittitian lawmakers are urging Prime Minister Denzil Douglas to declare a state of emergency to deal with the country’s worsening drug-related violence.

In Trinidad & Tobago, drugs and crime have gotten so out of hand that Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar on Aug. 22 did just that.

The country’s “limited” state of emergency, announced by Persad in a nationally televised address, includes a 9 p.m.-to-5 a.m. curfew in key cities and towns, with 5,000 soldiers assisting police in making searches and arrests. Trinidad’s foreign minister, Surujrattan Rambachan, said the country’s sudden spike in all types of violence including homicides follows the Aug. 16 seizure of $22 million worth of cocaine — prompting gangs to seek retribution for their losses. Parliament may vote to extend that state of emergency for 90 days.

Persad promised to “hunt down and bring to justice” the perpetrators of drug-related crime.

“Our nation must not be held to ransom by marauding groups of thugs bent on creating havoc in our society,” she said. “The current crime spree dictates that more must be done and stronger action must be deplored now.”

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