KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) — Assault rifles at the ready, police in a speedboat scan the coastline as they slice through the slate-gray water, aware that the rocky shorelines and fishing villages that line parts of southern Jamaica are not always very sleepy these days.
Seizures of South American cocaine in Jamaica have doubled since last year, and that has prompted island authorities to step up their game, dispatching more patrols to locations that haven’t seen such sustained law enforcement activity in years.
“All these areas are constantly monitored for illegal contraband. We keep our ears close to the ground,” said Det. Cpl. Orville Welsh, the lead officer in the patrol boat, after his team searched a fisherman’s canoe and a village of wooden shacks for drugs and guns.
It’s not just Jamaica that’s on alert. The central Caribbean as a whole seems to be coming back into favor with transnational drug cartels, with authorities reporting sharp increases in cocaine seizures and scrambling resources to contain the apparent surge.
Long a smuggler’s paradise, the Caribbean was eclipsed by Mexico as the prime drug route to the U.S. in the 1990s when Colombian cartels retreated amid stronger enforcement off Florida. In recent years, cocaine seized in the Caribbean dropped to around 5 percent of the total found by U.S. authorities.
A rising tide of drug trafficking in Caribbean
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