- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Deteriorating efforts to control cocaine and heroin trafficking in Guatemala have discouraged U.S. drug agents, who say the Central American country has become a major transshipment point for illicit narcotics bound for the United States.
"Rampant corruption has made Guatemala an ideal choice for drug dealers looking to send cocaine and heroin north to the United States," said one key U.S. drug agent. "The traffickers are winning this battle, there's no question about that."
The agent, who asked not to be identified, said a half-dozen Guatemalan crime syndicates have joined forces with drug cartels in Colombia and Mexico to move illicit narcotics through the country, nearly unchallenged by the government's scandal-plagued anti-drug authorities.
Half of the cocaine coming into the United States annually is routed through Guatemala, the agent and other key U.S. officials said. The country also has become a major storage point for Colombian heroin bound for the United States.
"There's only one reason Guatemala has become a major player in the drug business, and that's widespread corruption throughout the anti-drug effort," said another U.S. drug agent.
The agents said more than 400 tons of cocaine are shipped annually through Central America to Mexico and then to the United States. Half of that is routed through Guatemala. Interdiction, they said, is nearly nonexistent because of "widespread corruption."
Much of the drugs are moved north along the Pan-American Highway, they said, although the use of "go-fast boats" and small aircraft has increased in the past several months.
Other shipments, they said, are sent in large containers on trucks and ships by traffickers aware of Guatemala's ineffective and corrupt interdiction efforts at its three major ports.
The State Department, in a report released last week describing Guatemala as a major drug-transit country for South American cocaine and heroin en route to the United States, said large shipments regularly move through the country with "very little law enforcement intervention."
The report said cocaine seizures decreased by 40 percent last year, mainly because of widespread corruption, an acute lack of resources, poor leadership and frequent personnel turnover in law enforcement and other Guatemalan government agencies.
The State Department said Guatemala's National Civilian Police's Anti-Narcotics Operations Department stole more than double the amount of cocaine legally seized during the year, noting that the country's anti-narcotics police killed two villagers in an effort to steal 2,000 kilos of cocaine.
The anti-narcotics unit was eliminated in October, and the State Department said a newly created narcotics police unit has had limited success in combating drug trafficking. The new police unit has been responsive to U.S. training and technical assistance.
"Corruption has increased significantly in recent years and it is the number one obstacle to increasing the effectiveness of all [U.S. government programs] in Guatemala," the State Department report said. "There are frequent allegations of police, prosecutors and judges being corrupt.
"Hardly a week went by without another corruption scandal involving government officials. High levels of impunity and intimidation only exacerbate the corruption. Few high-level figures are ever charged or formally investigated for corruption and even fewer go to trial," the report said.
The State Department said the corruption and a stagnant economy will make it "very difficult for Guatemala to make serious inroads against narcotics trafficking in 2003" as the country prepares for national elections later this year.

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