Cuba is among the safest places to visit in the Caribbean, and has it has a strong anti-narcotics policy.
The island nation is not a major producer or consumer of illicit drugs, but its extensive shoreline and geographic location make it susceptible to narcotics smuggling operations.
Drugs that enter the Cuban market are largely the result of onshore wash-ups from smuggling by high-speed boats moving drugs from Jamaica to the Bahamas, Haiti, and the US or by small aircraft from clandestine airfields in Jamaica. For a number of years, Cuban officials have expressed concerns over the use of their waters and airspace for drug transit and about increased domestic drug use.
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The Cuban government has taken a number of measures to deal with the drug problem, including legislation to stiffen penalties for traffickers, increased training for counter-narcotics personnel, and cooperation with a number of countries on anti-drug efforts. Since 1999, Cuba’s Operation Hatchet has focused on maritime and air interdiction and the recovery of narcotics washed up on Cuban shores.
Since 2003, Cuba has aggressively pursued an internal enforcement and investigation program against its incipient drug market with an effective nationwide drug prevention and awareness campaign.
According to the US State Department’s 2016 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), issued March 2, 2016, Cuba has a number of anti-drug-related agreements in place with other countries, including 36 bilateral agreements for counter-drug cooperation and 27 policing cooperation agreements. As reported in the INCSR, Cuba reported seizing 962 kilograms of drugs (largely marijuana) in the first eight months of 2015 and detected 33 suspected “go-fast” boats on its southeastern coast.
Over the years, there have been varying levels of US-Cuban cooperation on anti-drug efforts. In 1996, Cuban authorities cooperated with the US in the seizure of 6.6 tons of cocaine aboard the Miami-bound Limerick, a Honduran-flag ship. Cuba turned over the cocaine to the US and cooperated fully in the investigation and subsequent prosecution of two defendants in the case in the United States.
Cooperation has increased since 1999, when US and Cuban officials met in Havana to discuss ways of improving anti-drug cooperation. Cuba accepted an upgrading of the communications link between the Cuban Border Guard and the US Coast Guard as well as the stationing of a US Coast Guard Drug Interdiction Specialist (DIS) at the US Interests Section in Havana. The Coast Guard official was posted to the US Interests Section in September 2000, and since that time, coordination has increased.
According to the 2016 INCSR, Cuban authorities and the US Coast Guard share tactical information related to vessels transiting through Cuban territorial waters suspected of trafficking. The report noted that Cuba also shares real-time tactical information with the Bahamas, Mexico, and Jamaica. It reported that such bilateral cooperation has led to multiple interdictions.
For example, in August 2015, Cuban cooperation with the US Coast Guard led to arrest of three Bahamians involved in drug trafficking and the seizure of their go-fast boat. As in past years, the State Department asserted in the INCSR that “Cuba has demonstrated an increased willingness to apprehend and turnover U.S. fugitives and to assist in U.S. judicial proceedings by providing documentation, witnesses, and background for cases in U.S. state and federal courts.”
Cuba maintains that it wants to cooperate with the US to combat drug trafficking and, on various occasions, has called for a bilateral anti-drug cooperation agreement with the US. In the 2011 INCSR, the State Department acknowledged that Cuba had presented the US government with a draft bilateral accord for counternarcotics cooperation that is still under review. According to the State Department, “Structured appropriately, such an accord could advance the counternarcotics efforts undertaken by both countries.” This was reiterated in the INCSR for 2012 through 2014.
In the 2015 INCSR, the State Department maintained that the US and Cuba held technical discussions on counter-narcotics in April 2014 and shared information on trends and enforcement procedures.
In the 2016 INCSR, the State Department noted that the US and Cuba held bilateral discussions on law enforcement and counter-narcotics cooperation in late 2015 that included current information on trends and enforcement procedures. This second counter-narcotics dialogue was held at the headquarters of the Drug Enforcement Administration in Washington, DC, on December 1, 2015, with delegations discussing ways to stop the illegal flow of narcotics and exploring ways to cooperate on the issue.
As in the past, the State Department contended in the 2016 INCSR that “enhanced communication and cooperation between the United States, international partners, and Cuba, particularly in terms of real-time information-sharing, will likely lead to increased interdictions and disruptions of illegal drug trafficking.”
In April 2016, Cuban security officials toured the US Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF-South) based in Key West, FL.200 JIATF-South has responsibility for detecting and monitoring illicit drug trafficking in the region and for facilitating international and inter-agency interdiction efforts.