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“The Dark Side of the Caribbean,”: Special report on drugs in northern Central America launched

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Posted: Saturday, July 13, 2019. 3:15 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: Investigating journalists from Latin America’s El Faro and Spanish newspaper El Pais are looking at drug-related activity in the northern Central American triangle, including Belize, in an article titled “Southern Border: The dark side of the Caribbean”.

In the first article, published on June 28, they visit three far-flung communities – Xcalak, Mexico, with a population of 300 and located northeast of San Pedro Town; Blue Creek, Orange Walk, Belize, epicenter of the rash of drug plane landings in recent months and next door neighbor to the border towns of La Union and San Francisco Botes, Mexico; and Puerto Barrios, Guatemala, where fierce gangs rule the day.

In the Xcalak area, drug activity has established two new verbs, “playear” and “paquetear”, to describe the action of combing the beach and coastal waters for “wet drops,” blocks of cocaine dropped by illegal drug planes along the coast in an action they are calling “bombardeo” or bombardment.

According to those the journalists spoke to, it is a profession taught to the youths just as they are taught to fish – and has much greater chance of getting them out of poverty. Reporters spoke with residents who describe “canoe races” for wet drops and operations by Belizean authorities against drug planes and boats.

The authors refer to experts who cite Sinaloa, Gulf and Jalisco New Generation cartels as the groups that control Cancun, the Riviera Maya and the coast along Quintana Roo. Whereas the Zetas had control throughout Mexico in previous years, they have lost territory but still control small cells in tourist zones. The El Faro/El Pais team notes that in the rest of the region, small cartels which collaborate in the transshipment of drugs have proliferated. The cocaine obtained in the coastal zones are delivered in Chetumal for onward transshipment to the north or Cancun which is the third destination in Mexico that consumes the most cocaine.

In La Union, the authors describe the blasé attitude of the local immigration officer, who dismisses Belize as “nothing,” and complains of job cuts ordered by Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. But the area bustles with Belizeans and Mexicans traveling back and forth. Many buy contraband and participate in officially illegal activity, but others are simply going home. One couple criticized the brutality of Belize’s security forces: “In Mexico, there is more respect for human rights. Even with the corruption and bribes, there is a protocol, but in Belize, they don’t care and the officers extort you and take away your money in front of everyone.”

Blue Creek is practically tranquil, except for the drug planes that land regularly, about one every month since January, according to an interviewee described as the “mayor” of the Mennonite village. He suggests that Government views the Mennonites with suspicion due to their economic success, and that their apparent tolerance of drug trafficking may cause a clamp down. He admits that the issue is damaging the reputation of the community. “But this is beyond us and even the governments of the countries. When we hear a plane crash, we don’t do anything. We let everything burn and don’t get involved,” he concludes.

Another Mennonite farmer describes the King Air and jet planes that land, refuel and move on, or crash and/or are abandoned to be discovered by police to be a common practice. A landing in the area led to the arrest of a senior police officer among others last year.

The special report also describe Puerto Barrios in Guatemala as a major shipping and entry point for drugs and weapons, and the home of a violent gang that has recently been targeting taxi drivers for extortion.

The story is the first in a series and the full story can be found here: https://elpais.com/elpais/2019/06/24/inenglish/1561378886_877981.html

 

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