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White House Adds Central American Countries to Drug List

The White House has named Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Honduras for the first time to its list of 20 “major illicit drug transit or major illicit drug producing countries.” The list is effective for fiscal year 2011.

The addition of these countries has further pushed the theory that drug runners are relocating their transit and operation centers to smaller Central American nations from countries like Mexico and Colombia that have pursued an all-out crackdown. This was reported by the U.S. Department of State in March.

Panama and Guatemala were already on the list, while El Salvador and Belize somehow didn’t make the cut. (Please add your comments below as to why you think that might be.)

The White House explains the new additions as follows:

“As Mexico and Colombia continue to apply pressure on drug traffickers, the countries of Central America are increasingly targeted for trafficking of cocaine and other drugs primarily destined for the United States. This growing problem resulted in Costa Rica, Honduras, and Nicaragua meeting the threshold for inclusion in the Majors List,” reads President Barack Obama’s September 15 memorandum for the secretary of state.

The Central American countries join a 20 nation list that now includes: Afghanistan, The Bahamas, Bolivia, Burma, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela.

For Costa Rica, although not totally surprising, the news could tarnish the army less country’s peace-loving, “happy nation” reputation.

“It’s painful that the country is included for the first time in history on the list of the president of the United States identifying nations with major intense illicit drug transit,” said Mauricio Boraschi, President Laura Chinchilla’s drug czar, “but at the same time it’s an incentive to continue placing an enormous effort that demands the participation of all Costa Ricans against this new enemy.”

The listing carries no sanctions, but surely serves as a wake-up call for listed states to act, Public Security Minister José María Tijerino said.

Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua’s president, responded to the listing by nudging Washington to push through its proposed spending increase to fight drug trafficking in the region. “This is the time, I believe, to value the fact that President Obama is presenting to the North American Congress a report … so that … they take on the responsibility of contributing resources to Central America” to stem drug trafficking, Ortega said Thursday, according to French newswire AFP.

The months ahead will be an opportune moment to see how cooperation can be enhanced to buttress the inroads that traffickers continue to make in Central America.

*Alex Leff is a contributing blogger to americasquarterly.org based in San José, Costa Rica, and is the online editor for The Tico Times, Central America's leading English-language newspaper.

Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
Tags: Barack Obama, Daniel Ortega, illicit drugs, US Department of State

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