Interpol-led operation in Caribbean, Central America battles maritime drug and gun smugglers

The international police agency Interpol has led an operation in the Caribbean and Central America that seized roughly $822 million worth of cocaine and other drugs and led to 142 arrests, law enforcement authorities in Europe announced Tuesday.

The Europol police agency supported the Interpol-led initiative dubbed "Operation Lionfish" targeting maritime drug and gun smugglers across the two regions. It involved some 34 countries and territories, including some 20 Caribbean nations including Cuba and Jamaica and Central American states like Nicaragua and Panama.

The Netherlands-based Europol said coordination units were based at Interpol's bureau in El Salvador and the command center of the French West Indies Coast Guard on the island of Martinique.

During the weeks-long operation, authorities were able to share information and conduct speedy checks against the Interpol and Europol intelligence databases to cross-check suspicious vessels and cargo containers and then select them as targets to be tracked and boarded.

Patrols were conducted by land and sea. Regional police, customs, immigration and naval forces participated in the international effort to combat organized crime groups behind narcotics and illicit weapons smuggling in the Caribbean and Central America.

Besides confiscating caches of drugs and making arrests, Europol said the operation targeting maritime smuggling by criminal networks also resulted in the seizure of 15 vessels, 42 guns, $170,000 in cash and 8 tons of chemical precursors used to manufacture cocaine.

Paul Noel of the St. Lucia-headquartered Caribbean Customs Law Enforcement Council said the initiative "has been wonderful in that we can do the joint checks right here if there is a suspect target in the Caribbean we can immediately check these targets with our party members."

The Caribbean council and the World Customs Organization were partners in the anti-smuggling operation, which was supported by the French Coast Guard and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

"Disrupting this activity is not only critical for the source and transit countries of these drugs and weapons, but also for the destination countries such as Canada," Royal Canadian Mounted Police Commissioner Bob Paulson said in a Tuesday statement from Ottawa.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime says that South American cocaine is typically smuggled to Europe by sea, most often in container shipments. It is usually trafficked to the North American market from Colombia to Central American nations or Mexico by sea and then by land for the rest of the way.


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