Jamaica remains major source of illegal drugs to US — report

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Jamaica remains major source of illegal drugs to US — report

Monday, April 01, 2019

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WASHINGTON, United States (CMC) — Jamaica remains the largest Caribbean source country of marijuana and a significant transit point for cocaine trafficked from South America to North America and other international markets, according to the latest International Narcotics Control Strategy Report released here by the United States State Department.

It said that traffickers also export Jamaican-grown marijuana to other Caribbean countries in return for illicit firearms and other contraband.

“Jamaica's geographic position in the western Caribbean and its difficult-to-patrol coastline, high volume of tourist travel, and status as a major containerized cargo trans-shipment hub contribute to its use for drug trafficking via commercial shipping, small watercraft, air freight, human couriers, and private aircraft,” the Report noted.

It said that while the United States and Jamaican governments continue to successfully utilise bilateral legal assistance and extradition treaties, as well as agreements on maritime law enforcement cooperation and sharing forfeited assets, progress is being made towards an agreement to formalise information sharing between customs agencies.

Washington said that Jamaica's drug control efforts face significant challenges from corruption, organised crime, gang activity, resource constraints, and an inefficient criminal justice system.

Both countries are bilateral parties to both a mutual legal assistance treaty and an extradition treaty and they also have a strong extradition and mutual assistance relationship. Both treaties were successfully used in 2018.

The United States and Jamaica also utilised a reciprocal agreement to share forfeited criminal assets and a bilateral agreement on law enforcement cooperation on maritime interdiction of illicit traffickers, including boarding of suspicious vessels and embarkation of law enforcement officials on the other country's ships.

Last year, the two countries made “some progress toward finalizing a bilateral customs mutual assistance agreement (CMAA) that will provide a legal framework for the exchange of trade information between the agencies of the two countries “which in the long term will assist in targeting the flow of drugs, guns, and other contraband through US and Jamaican ports of entry.

“The CMAA is still under review by the Jamaican government and is not expected to be signed and in effect until 2019. The Jamaican government ended in 2018 an existing non-binding memorandum of understanding previously used to share intercept information, on the basis that it did not meet the legal framework required under the Jamaican constitution.”

But Washington said that the absence of a formal agreement to share intercept information has hampered its investigations in some areas and that the two countries are “currently in negotiations to find a way forward to reaching a mutually agreeable mechanism to restore this longstanding area of cooperation between both governments”.

The Report noted that Jamaica's efforts to bring traffickers to justice are hobbled by an under-resourced, overburdened judicial system and that repeated delays and trial postponements contribute to significant case backlogs; frustration among police, witnesses, jurors, and the public, and; impunity for many offenders.

“In response, the Jamaican government passed a plea bargain reform bill in 2017, drafted with US support and designed to incentivize plea bargaining to increase the courts' efficiency and reduce the backlog of criminal cases.”

The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) said it had seized 63 kilograms (kg) of cocaine over the first nine months of 2018 as compared with 658kg during the same period in 2017.

“In 2018, the JCF's forces have been stretched thin by various state of emergency operations. Significant cocaine seizures at or near the Port of Kingston have indicated that large shipments reached Jamaica via commercial shipping containers from South America. Cocaine also arrives in Jamaica via small “go-fast” watercraft from Central and South America, likely with the assistance of larger fishing vessels that serve as mother ships.”

Washington said that after reaching Jamaica, some cocaine shipments are trans-shipped in containers through the Port of Kingston onto vessels bound for the United States and other international markets. “Other shipments enter the country and are divided into smaller quantities for outbound shipment via other means, including concealment in luggage, human couriers, air freight, or small watercraft.”

The Report noted that in 2015, legislation to decriminalise the possession and use of small amounts of marijuana for personal use went into effect.

During the first nine months of 2018, Jamaican authorities eradicated 186 hectares of cannabis plants and seized approximately 20.2 metric tons of cured marijuana, according to police data.

Jamaican farmers cultivate an estimated 15,000 hectares of cannabis every year and the Report notes that the police, supported by the United States, employ an eradication team to cut growing plants, seize seedlings and cured marijuana, and burn them in the field.

Small fishing vessels and speed boats carry marijuana to Haiti, the Cayman Islands and the Bahamas and Washington said “a thriving “guns for ganja (marijuana)” trade continues between Jamaica and Haiti, as evidenced by seizures in 2018 of illegal firearms traced to Haiti and marijuana shipments prepared for embarkation from coastal Jamaica”.

Police and customs officials also target marijuana shipments smuggled via commercial shipping directly to the United States.

Jamaica prohibits the manufacture, sale, transport, and possession of MDMA (ecstasy) and methamphetamine and regulates the precursor chemicals used to produce them. There were no reports of synthetic drugs or precursor chemicals produced or trafficked in Jamaica in 2018.

On the issue of corruption, the US State Department notes that as a matter of policy, the Jamaican government does not encourage or facilitate illegal activity associated with drug trafficking or the laundering of proceeds from illicit drug transactions.

“Jamaican law penalizes corruption, but in practice, corruption remains entrenched and widespread, and the judicial system has a poor record of prosecuting corruption cases against law enforcement and government officials. The last time a Member of Parliament or similarly high-ranking official was tried or convicted on corruption charges was in 1990, when a former minister of labour was convicted for diverting money from a farm worker programme for personal gain.”

But the Report notes that corruption at Jamaica's airports and seaports allegedly facilitates the movement of drug shipments across borders, and organized crime leaders have historically had ties to government officials, creating a permissive environment for drug trafficking.

In October 2018, the Jamaican government passed a bill to make MOCA, which investigates organized crime and official corruption, fully independent of the police. MOCA was previously a task force within the JCF and the new legislation makes it a free-standing entity with its own dedicated resources, potentially increasing its freedom to investigate corruption cases throughout the government.

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