Adam Isacson

Still trying to understand Latin America, my own country, and why so few consequences are intended. These views are not necessarily my employer’s.

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Narcotrafficking

A few April border charts

U.S. Customs and Border Protection released data on migrant apprehensions and drug seizures during April, the first month during which the U.S.-Mexico border spent entirely under near-closure quarantine.

As expected, the number of undocumented migrants apprehended at the border declined, as did seizures of nearly all drugs. However, April was not the month of least migration in recent memory, as I’d expected. Despite a lockdown of the border and immediate, legally dubious “expulsions” of most border-crossers, the 15,862 people apprehended by Border Patrol last month was still a higher monthly total than February through April of 2017, when migration plummeted following Donald Trump’s inauguration.

Here’s what monthly drug seizures at the border look like. Though they are down, you don’t see a sharp break in March and April. It may be that traffickers are still trying to cross with the same amount of product as always, despite the stricter border measures. Or it may be that CBP, with a lot less traffic to inspect, is seizing a larger percentage of a smaller overall quantity of smuggled drugs. No idea.

I’ve got a bunch more infographics to update, but as you can see from all the other things I’m putting on this site this evening, it’s been a long and full day, even my late-afternoon coffee is wearing off, and I’m likely to make mistakes. So more tomorrow.

WOLA Podcast: “Beyond the ‘Narco-State’ Narrative”

I’ll be going back to an interview format for tomorrow’s podcast (if all goes according to plan). Today’s episode, though, is the audio track of a March 20, 2020 WOLA webinar about criminality and corruption in Venezuela, and the viability of a political exit to the crisis. This event is based on a March 11 report by WOLA’s Geoff Ramsey and David Smilde, who look at U.S. data and find that drug trafficking and other criminality and corruption, while big problems, are not so severe as to rule out negotiating a political solution with the Maduro regime.

In this event audio, Ramsey and Smilde are joined by Jeremy McDermott, the co-director of InsightCrime, and investigative journalist Bram Ebus, a consultant to the International Crisis Group.

Listen above, or download the mp3 file here.

Thread: new border and migration data graphics

Yesterday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) released its August data about migration at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Using that, along with data from Mexico’s government and recent non-governmental studies, I posted a 9-tweet thread to Twitter last night, with 17 graphics. Here is that thread, deconstructed.

(1/9) Let’s post a bunch of migration data using CBP and Mexico government numbers.

With 800,000+ apprehended in 11 months, this is the largest apprehensions total since 2007. But unlike 2007, 2 out of 3 are children and parents. In fact, single adults are still trending down.

(2/9) Trump’s June tariff threat caused Mexico to increase its own apprehensions, leading to a drop in US apprehensions at the border. But we’ve seen this before: there were drops after crackdowns and disruptions in 2014 and 2017, and migration recovered after a few months.

(3/9) The crackdown has further increased demand on Mexico’s overwhelmed, underfunded asylum system.

(4/9) After the crackdown, migration from Guatemala dropped more sharply than migration from Honduras. Honduras is now the number-one origin country for migrants apprehended at the US-Mexico border, followed by Guatemala then Mexico.

(5/9) Add people on waitlists at ports of entry plus “Remain in Mexico” victims, and there were at least 52,000 asylum seekers stuck in Mexican border towns by the end of July. It’s probably somewhere around 65,000-70,000 now: a nightmare scenario.

(6/9) CBP seems to have eased “metering” ever-so-slightly in August. (6/9)

(7/9) 11 months into fiscal 2019, seizures of cocaine, meth, and fentanyl already exceed fiscal 2018. As usual, most seizures happen at ports of entry, not the areas in between where some would build more walls. Heroin is flat, perhaps because demand for fentanyl is greater.

(8/9) Marijuana seizures continue to decline sharply at the border, a likely outcome of states’ legalizations, and port-of-entry seizures are suddenly the majority.

(9/9) Download these graphics and more as a big PDF at http://bit.ly/wola-border.

2016 suspect trafficking maps

These U.S. government maps were on display at today’s Senate Colombia hearing, but weren’t in anyone’s published testimony. Click on them to see them enlarged.

That route from southwest Colombia and Ecuador to Mexico and Guatemala is really striking.

Also striking is the relative absence of vessels headed to Nicaragua, El Salvador, Cuba, and Haiti.

Trafficking routes over time

Below this text, in reverse chronological order, are some maps from U.S. Southern Command that I’ve collected over the years. They show the tracks of aircraft or boats that Southcom and its Key West, Florida-based “Joint Interagency Task Force South” (JIATF-South) component has suspected of trafficking drugs (or other illegal things). These give you a general idea of how trafficking (I believe this is nearly all cocaine trafficking) patterns have shifted over the past 12 years.

Four things stand out:

  • The Eastern Pacific is the busiest route. Southcom reported earlier this year that “Eastern Pacific flow currently accounts for more than 68% of documented cocaine movement,” and the more recent maps show that clearly. Colombia’s entire Pacific coast, as well as Esmeraldas and Manabí, Ecuador, are the main launching points for maritime traffic. (Southcom estimates that, after steady decline, only 3 percent of cocaine trafficking from the Andes is aerial; the rest is maritime.) For a while, detected trafficking vessels were not going out as far as the Galápagos Islands, which requires larger boats full of fuel to be stationed in the deep ocean, but now that long-haul route is active again. These long hauls tend not to arrive in Mexico, other than Chiapas which, along with San Marcos and Retalhuleu, Guatemala, remains a very heavy destination.
  • Costa Rica and Panama have been increasingly inundated with maritime traffic, which now blankets their heavily touristed coasts. In the Caribbean, Puerto Rico appears to have seen a very sharp increase too.
  • The Venezuela-to-Honduras aerial route, from Apure to Gracias a Dios, remains active, though overall aerial trafficking is reduced.
  • Traffickers tend to avoid Cuba, Haiti, and Nicaragua. (The 2016 map reverses Haiti and the Dominican Republic on the island of Hispaniola.) The lack of tracks detected in Cuba is total in recent years, which is remarkable.

These aren’t secret or classified, but I don’t know why Southcom and JIATF-South don’t just put these on their websites and in their reporting to Congress and the media. It’s about telling your own story.

2016

2014

2011

2010

2007

2005

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