Puerto Rico, USVI Customs and Border Protection Continue to Fight Against Drug Smuggling

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO- Each year, the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands seize tens of thousands of pounds of drugs, most of which is cocaine. CBP officials in San Juan said smugglers are trying hard to get their product to the eastern part of the United States. It makes Puerto Rico and the USVI some of the first lines of defense in the fight against transnational drug smugglers.  

“This archipelago you basically have a border that is 360 degrees,” said Jeffrey Quinones, the public affairs specialist for CBP Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. Quinones said they have a lot of ground, sea and air to cover.  

“This is a particular smuggling route for smuggling organizations to bring particularly cocaine from South America and they’ll try to make their way up to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands,” said Quinones.  

Cocaine is the leading drug seized during their operations. Looking at the most recent data, their Air and Marine operations seized on average more than ten-thousand pounds of cocaine each year for the past three years.  

Looking at the last three years for the Ramey Border Patrol Sector and the San Juan Field Operations, they seized in total around 117-thousand pounds of drugs. Just last year, those operations seized about 18-thousand pounds of cocaine alone.  

“In the Caribbean for both human smuggling and narcotics smuggling are tied up,” said Quinones. “They’re part of the same operation. Transnational criminal organizations do both operations. They’ll move people or transfer people into the Puerto Rico or the Islands with the intent to get to the mainland.”  

Quinones said the frequency of these smuggling attempts varies but organizations are now using a range of methods to try to bring in drugs to the area.  

“Like mail, currier services, through cargo ships, they’ll try to use basically go-fast boats,” said Quinones.  

While cocaine is the product CBP comes across most often, they’re is noticing other products trying to make their way into the United States.  

“Last year we also had a sharp increase in undeclared currency that we seized all throughout the area,” said Quinones. “We’ve also seen an increase in organizations trying to move wildlife, exotic wildlife. We had a case about two weeks ago individuals tried to smuggle from Puerto Rico exotic birds into the Dominican Republic. One of our marine assets was able to locate them and stop them. They had about 133 birds that actually most of them died from the operation and only five survived.” 

CBP said these transnational criminal organizations from places like the Dominican Republic or South America have become more organized and are trying to hide behind legitimate businesses. They’re asking the public and trade associations and businesses to give them tips if they see any illicit trade practices. 

“As an agency we have a very complex mission and it has to balance out letting legitimate trade come into the country and also legitimate travelers coming into the country but also securing the borders of the United States, which has become more and more complex and more and more challenging,” said Quinones.