Puerto Rico: Undefended Front in the War on Drugs

A CNN article reports that Puerto Rico, an island with a population of 3,706,690, had 1,136 murders last year — 70% of them related to drug trafficking. For perspective, consider that New York City, with a population of more than 8 million people, had 496 murders in 2011.

Travelers from Puerto Rico to the mainland do not have to go through customs when they arrive, making it easier to smuggle drugs from Puerto Rico than from Canada or Mexico. Combined with limited protection of Puerto Rico’s coastline, this fact makes Puerto Rico a significant conduit for drugs.

“We have been asking the federal government to help us patrol…the Puerto Rican coasts, which we are unable to cover entirely by ourselves,” Gov. Luis Fortuño said Wednesday. “We want them to help us protect it in the same way they protect the borders with Mexico and Canada.”

A hearing, “U.S.-Caribbean Border: Open Road for Drug Traffickers and Terrorists,” is scheduled for June 21st. Michael McCaul (R-TX) will chair the hearing.

“The disturbing increase in drug trafficking and drug-related violence in this region is a major contributing factor.  It is alarming and unacceptable.  If this kind of violence were happening anywhere else where 4 million American citizens resided, it would make daily headlines,”McCaul said in a press release last month.  “This problem is no less serious than drug cartels operating across the Mexican border. Moreover, the established ties between drug cartels and terrorist groups such as Hezbollah present an even graver threat to our national security.  Essentially, the U.S. Caribbean territories are functioning as an unlocked back door into the mainland United States.  This situation is urgent, and must be addressed by the Department of Homeland Security.”

Silvio Gonzales, in a Prensa Latina article , suggests that the island’s 16% unemployment rate may be a contributing factor in the problem. Caribbean Business points to the success of Mexican border initiatives, which have rerouted drug traffic to the Caribbean, with Puerto Rico providing an easy entry point to the United States. Puerto Rican officials hope that the June 21st hearing will lead to a Caribbean border initiative which will help safeguard the nearly four million U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico from the drug-funded violence — as well as the mainland residents who must pay the price when illegal drugs enter their neighborhoods.

The Puerto Rican border of the United States needs to have the same level of protection as the Southwestern and Northern borders of the Unites States to protect the country from illegal drugs and their consequences.

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