SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi met Nov. 14 with the Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, Admiral Paul F. Zukunft, to discuss the Coast Guard's efforts to reduce drug trafficking and related violence in Puerto Rico.
Also attending the meeting was Rear Admiral John H. Korn, the Commander of the Coast Guard's Seventh District, which has jurisdiction over Puerto Rico.
On October 24th, Pierluisi sent a letter to Admiral Zukunft, Rear Admiral Korn and other senior federal officials, expressing his appreciation for the fact that the Coast Guard--after years of persistent pressure by the Resident Commissioner--has substantially increased the amount of time its maritime vessels and aircraft spend conducting drug interdiction operations in the area surrounding Puerto Rico.
"In my letter to Admiral Zukunft and during my productive meeting with him, I urged the Coast Guard to further strengthen its efforts in Puerto Rico, which are having an extraordinarily positive impact on the island," said Pierluisi.
"At our meeting, Admiral Zukunft reiterated the Coast Guard's commitment to help safeguard the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico. He assured me that the Coast Guard will continue to allocate the resources necessary to combat drug trafficking on the island and in the surrounding region," added the Resident Commissioner.
Since 2009, the Resident Commissioner has been on a mission to persuade the federal government to allocate additional law enforcement resources to Puerto Rico, so that these resources are commensurate with the serious threat of drug-related violence that confronts the U.S. territory.
This effort has produced tangible and remarkable results. Because of the recent steps taken by the Coast Guard and other federal agencies, the number of homicides in Puerto Rico in 2014 is on track to be 40 percent lower than in 2011, 32 percent lower than in 2012, and 25 percent lower than in 2013. Whereas there were 1,136 homicides in Puerto Rico in 2011, it is estimated that there will be about 665 homicides on the island in 2014, if current trends continue. Nevertheless, much work remains to be done, given that Puerto Rico still has a murder rate that is far higher than any U.S. state or the District of Columbia, with an average of roughly two homicides each day.
"According to a recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, which I requested, the total amount of hours that Coast Guard maritime vessels spent conducting counter-drug operations in Sector San Juan--which covers Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands--more than tripled between Fiscal Year 2009 and Fiscal Year 2013, from about 2,000 hours to nearly 7,000 hours. In addition, the total amount of hours that Coast Guard aircraft spent conducting counter-drug operations in Sector San Juan increased from less than 150 hours in Fiscal Year 2011, to over 500 hours in Fiscal Year 2012, to about 1,000 hours in Fiscal Year 2013. Moreover, the Coast Guard recently informed me that this number rose yet again to about 1,237 flight hours in Fiscal Year 2014. That is an eightfold increase in just four years," said Pierluisi.
"If you want to identify the reasons why Puerto Rico's murder rate has fallen so significantly since 2011, enhanced efforts by federal law enforcement agencies like the Coast Guard are perhaps the single most important factor," added the Resident Commissioner.
Admiral Zukunft responded to Pierluisi's letter on November 14th. In his letter, Admiral Zukunft confirmed that the Coast Guard is scheduled to modernize its fleet of vessels in Sector San Juan in the next two years. Specifically, the Coast Guard will replace Sector San Juan's six 110-foot Island Class Patrol Boats with six new 154-foot Sentinel Class Patrol Boats, which are far more advanced and should substantially improve Sector San Juan's interdiction capabilities. The first of these new cutters will arrive in Puerto Rico in the spring of 2015. Two more will arrive later in 2015, and the remaining three will arrive between October 2015 and June 2016.
"I am also pleased to announce that, according to Admiral Zukunft, the number of Coast Guard personnel assigned to Puerto Rico will increase by 84 active duty members. This is great news, and I want to thank the Coast Guard for its proven commitment to Puerto Rico. We are working hand-in-hand to make the island a safer place to live, work and raise a family," said Pierluisi.