Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi met earlier this week with the Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, Admiral Paul F. Zukunft, to discuss the Coast Guard’s efforts to reduce drug trafficking and related violence in Puerto Rico. At the same time, Admiral Zukunft announced an increase in the number of Coast Guard personnel assigned to Puerto Rico by 84 active duty members. This initiative builds on previous efforts to enhance federal resources to help Puerto Rico combat drug related violence.
The number of homicides in Puerto Rico in 2014 is on track to be 40 percent lower than in 2011, 32 percent lower than in 2012, and 25 percent lower than in 2013. There were 1,136 homicides in Puerto Rico in 2011, and it is estimated that that number will decrease to 665 homicides in 2014. Yet Puerto Rico still has a murder rate that is far higher than any U.S. state or the District of Columbia, with an average of roughly two homicides each day. The presence of illegal drugs in Puerto Rico has been linked with the high homicide rate.
Congress has studied the connection, noting that the Puerto Rican border of the United States lacks the level of protection granted to the Southwestern and Northern borders of the Unites States to protect the country from illegal drugs and their consequences. Enhanced federal resources in recent years through “Operation Caribbean Resilience”appear to have had an impact.
“According to a recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, which I requested, the total amount of hours that Coast Guard maritime vessels spent conducting counter-drug operations in Sector San Juan—which covers Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands—more than tripled between Fiscal Year 2009 and Fiscal Year 2013, from about 2,000 hours to nearly 7,000 hours. In addition, the total amount of hours that Coast Guard aircraft spent conducting counter-drug operations in Sector San Juan increased from less than 150 hours in Fiscal Year 2011, to over 500 hours in Fiscal Year 2012, to about 1,000 hours in Fiscal Year 2013. Moreover, the Coast Guard recently informed me that this number rose yet again to about 1,237 flight hours in Fiscal Year 2014. That is an eightfold increase in just four years,” said Pierluisi.
“If you want to identify the reasons why Puerto Rico’s murder rate has fallen so significantly since 2011, enhanced efforts by federal law enforcement agencies like the Coast Guard are perhaps the single most important factor,” added the Resident Commissioner.