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Panama - DRUG CONTROL STRATEGY - 2005 Report           [p1 of 3]   

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International Narcotics Control Strategy Report - 2005

SECTIONS ON PANAMA

Released by the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs

U.S. Department of State
March 2005

 

(From Volume 1 - Volume I: Drug and Chemical Control - Section Canada, Mexico, and Central America at http://www.state.gov/g/inl/rls/nrcrpt/2005/vol1/html/42364.htm )

[Links to complete report and parts are at end of this report]

Panama

  1. Summary

By virtue of its geographic position and well-developed transportation infrastructure, Panama is a major transshipment point for narcotics from the Andean Region to the United States and Europe. Cooperation between United States and Panamanian law enforcement agencies to stem the flow of narcotics, illegal firearms, and money, is excellent. Since taking office September 1, 2004, the Torrijos Administration has built upon its predecessorís policies of close cooperation with the United States on security and law enforcement issues. At the same time, Panamaís critical fiscal situation has placed increased pressure on the budgets of law enforcement agencies, hampering their ability to fulfill their respective missions. As a result, assistance provided by the United States remains crucial to ensuring effective Panamanian law enforcement. Panama is a party to the 1988 United Nations drug convention.

II. Status of Country

Panamaís geographic proximity to the Andean cocaine- and heroin-producing regions makes it an important transshipment point for narcotics destined for the United States. Although security in the Darien region bordering Colombia has improved in recent years, smuggling of weapons and drugs across the border continues. Panama is also a major drug-transit hub due to its containerized seaports, the Pan-American Highway, an international hub airport, numerous uncontrolled airfields, and vast unguarded coastlines on both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The steady flow of cheap illicit drugs has taken a toll on Panamanian society by increasing domestic drug abuse, particularly among young people. The lucrative drug trade has also contributed to pervasive public corruption, thereby undermining the GOPís criminal justice system. Panama is not a significant producer of drugs or precursor chemicals. Cannabis is cultivated for local consumption, primarily within the Pearl Islands in the Gulf of Panama.

III. Country Actions Against Drugs in 2004

Policy Initiatives.

In 2004, the GOP continued to implement 81 projects the Panamanian National Commission for the Study and Prevention of Drug-Related Crimes (CONAPRED) released in a 2002 report. The GOP also established an inter-agency task force to coordinate narcotics enforcement at Tocumen International Airport. Since taking office in September 2004, the Torrijos Administration has adopted a broad policy of enhanced inter-agency coordination related to narcotics interdiction activities.

Accomplishments.

During the year, Panama launched an interagency narcotics information-sharing network under the coordination of the Drug Prosecutorís Office. During 2004, Panama and the United States co-hosted a Key Leaders Conference, attended by law enforcement officials from the hemisphere as part of the effort to create a Latin America International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA).

Law Enforcement Efforts.

USG law enforcement entities enjoy a healthy and cooperative relationship with GOP counterpart agencies in every aspect of narcotics-related criminal matters. In January 2004, Colombian kingpin Jesus Henao Montoya was apprehended in Panama and deported to the U.S. for prosecution. DEA-monitored statistics through November 2004 indicate seizures of 7,068 kilograms of cocaine, 91.4 kilograms of heroin, 2,751 kilograms of cannabis, 0 kilograms of MDMA, 3,006,430 tablets of Pseudoephedrine, 0 tablets of Amphetamines, $1,946,645.00 in currency seizures, and 224 arrests for international drug-related offenses. Cocaine, heroin, MDMA, Pseudoephedrine, Amphetamines, currency seizures, and international drug-related arrests have declined slightly since last year, while seizures of cannabis have risen. Some of the decrease in seizures can be attributed to a temporary hiatus in operations during the transition between governments in September 2004. As in recent years, many narcotics operations are intelligence-driven movements and are usually cooperative ventures between the GOP and the USG.

The Public Ministryís Drug Prosecutorís Office (DPO) remains a respected entity for combating narcotics-related crimes and a principal coordinator of Panamaís Public Forcesí counternarcotics investigative resources. DPO cooperation with U.S. law enforcement agencies is excellent and extensive. The PNPís Directorate of Information and Intelligence (DIIP) and its Anti-Drug Sub-Directorate (DAD) are effective drug investigative units.

The NAS-funded and DEA-supported Public Ministry/PTJ sensitive investigative unit, with authority to conduct investigations relative to major drug and money laundering organizations, continues to grow and regularly carries out operations. The PNP Mobile Inspection Unit and Paso Canoas Interdiction Enhancements, the International Airport Drug Task Force, and the Canine Unit continue to operate with USG support and have fielded major arrests and seizures.

The National Maritime Service (SMN) is a professional and capable agency that enjoys good relationships with USG counterparts. The SMN responds to USG requests for boarding and interdictions, assisting the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) with verifying ship registry data, and transferring prisoners and evidence to Panama for air transport to the United States. The USCG and JIATF-S hosted two joint exercises (CONJUNTOS) with the SMN in 2004 and hope to host a follow-on exercise in early 2005. Despite the SMNís successes and cooperation, operations are threatened by a lack of resources, particularly fuel. There is concern that without USG assistance the SMN operational status may erode significantly. The SMN and National Air Service (SAN) have positive relations and annually team together to eradicate cannabis fields in the Pearl Islands.

The National Air Service is continually plagued by limited air assets, but provides excellent support for counternarcotics operations when their resources are available. The SAN, like other Panama Police Forces (PPF), had its budget cut for 2005, which may threaten future operations. The SAN continues to respond to U.S. law enforcement requests to over-fly and photograph suspect areas and to identify suspect aircraft in flight or on the ground. The SAN provides logistical support in the transfer of detainees and drug evidence through Panama to U.S. jurisdiction. The SAN-SMN relationship continues to grow in a positive direction. Both forces were involved in operations to burn cannabis fields on the Pearl Islands.

Cultivation and Production.

Joint DEA-SAN aerial reconnaissance efforts indicate small-scale coca cultivation increased in July 2004. Reports of cocaine laboratories in the Darien are unconfirmed and have not been confirmed since 1993-94. GOP resource constraints, triple-canopy jungle, and the presence of heavily armed Colombian insurgents in the region have prevented crop eradication. Limited cannabis cultivation, principally for domestic consumption, exists in Panama, particularly in the Pearl Islands. The SMN, SAN, and PNP cooperate effectively to eradicate these crops.

Precursor Chemicals.

Panama is not a significant producer or consumer of chemicals used in processing illegal drugs. However, it is believed that a significant volume of chemicals transits the Colon Free Zone for other countries. Legislation to strengthen Panamaís chemical control regime has been drafted with U.S. assistance and presented to the National Assembly for approval. Seizures of pseudoephedrine by November 2004 totaled 3 million tablets. Until new legislation is signed into law, Panamanian chemical regulatory and enforcement infrastructure will remain inadequate and will continue to threaten USG success against regional narcotics production.

 

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