UM’s Center for Hemispheric Policy’s symposium features a talk by Gen. John F. Kelly, commander of the U.S. Southern Command.
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (April 17, 2014) —
Even with a shortage of ships and planes, the U.S. Southern Command still intercepted 132 tons of cocaine on the high seas last year, preventing the cache of drugs from reaching land where it would eventually be parceled out into small kilos.
But that’s still only “a fraction of what gets through,” Gen. John F. Kelly, commander of the Miami-based Southcom, said Thursday.
The illicit drug trade and Southcom’s efforts to stem it dominated the general’s remarks, delivered at the Hyatt Regency Coral Gables as part of the University of Miami Center for Hemispheric Policy’s “Challenges and Opportunities: Security in Latin America and the Caribbean” symposium.
Recently returned from a two-day visit to Haiti’s northern coast, Gen. Kelly said that while the U.S. is seeing an increase in other drugs such as heroine and methamphetamine entering the country, cocaine remains “the big money maker,” constituting an $85-billion-a-year global market that fuels other criminal enterprises, including al Qaeda-affiliated organizations.
He detailed a trafficking system in which cocaine originating from Colombia is smuggled into Honduras, where it enters a distribution network he described as “more efficient and sophisticated than Federal Express.”
Gen. Kelly praised Southcom’s allies in the fight against drug trafficking. Colombia’s military, in particular, has prevented substantial quantities of cocaine from being harvested and shipped abroad, shutting down some 1,400 jungle drug labs last year, he said.
He called Mexico “an unbelievable partner” with the U.S. in drug interdiction efforts, but said tens of thousands of people are still being murdered in that country each year as a result of the narco-drug trade there.
“It is a threat to any country to have drugs either grown or trafficking through it,” Kelly said. “Until you deal with that, you are at risk as a democracy.”
Gen. Kelly’s comments came two days after the U.S. Coast Guard offloaded at its Miami Beach base more than 120 bales of cocaine seized in two separate busts in Caribbean waters.
Among other topics addressed by the general: With anti-government protests still ongoing in Venezuela, he said there is a glimmer of good news in that the government there is engaging opposition groups. And he praised a U.S. State Department program that has sent Haitian-American New York City Police officers to Haiti to help train that country’s police force.
Robert C. Jones Jr. can be reached at 305-284-1615.
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