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Mar 19, 2013

On patrol with the US Southern Command

Belize is considered a main transit point for drugs that make their way to the United States by land, sea and air. In the fight against drug trafficking, the US has established a major anti-drug operation center in Florida and because of its sensitive nature; it is off limits to the public. Last year alone, Operation Martillo organized by the Southern Command, seized a hundred and fifty three metric tons of cocaine. News Five’s Isani Cayetano and representatives from other media houses got a tour of the facility last week which coincided with a huge cocaine bust. Here is his report. 


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The southernmost city in the continental United States, Key West, Florida is a popular tourist destination.  Every year in the month of March, a mass migration of thousands converge on the island to party along Duval Street during spring break.  Others flock to Monroe County for a little sightseeing, primarily to breeze in on the museum home of Nobel Prize laureate Ernest Hemingway.  But, Key West is more than a seemingly endless drive along the Overseas Highway or just another attractive weekend jaunt.  It is also the seat of JIATF South.  Joint Interagency Task Force South, as it is formally known, is a subordinate of the United States Southern Command.


John Murphy

John Murphy, Vice Director, JIATF South

“JIATF South is the premiere agency for stopping illicit trafficking coming from the source and transit zones, making its way up through Central America, Mexico [and] into the United States.  Our job is to stop bad things and bad people from harming the region in the Western Hemisphere, as well as bad people and things heading out globally.”


Located at the farthest reach of the Florida Straits, it is the nerve center of all maritime and aerial anti-drug operations within Central and South America.  JIATF South is headquartered at the Naval Air Station Key West, an area off limit to visitors.  Its mandate is to circumvent the illegal movement of drugs and weapons, as well as money laundering by forging meaningful relationships with its allies.


Gregg Gillian

Col. Gregg Gillian, Chief Public Affairs Officer, U.S. SouthCom

“Our main objectives are to develop partnerships with the countries in this area and improve regional security.”


Belize, in the context of transnational organized crime, is not only a corridor for the shipment of drugs; it is also a hub for the secondary flow associated with such activities.  The residual effects of unsanctioned traffic are widespread corruption, crime and violence.


John Murphy

“If we’re aware of any illicit movement that’s heading up the Central American isthmus towards the country of Belize we do immediately notify law enforcement in Belize to take action.”


To do so, JIATF South employs intelligence to detect, monitor, and handoff suspected drug traffickers to relevant authorities.  During our overnight stay in Key West, Operation Martillo, headed by the multi-service agency, led U.S. law enforcement to bring the hammer down on dealers attempting to smuggle thirty-five bales of cocaine into the country.


Col. Gregg Gillian

“We’ve seen a significant impact in the interdiction of illicit traffic, especially through our efforts in Operation Martillo and far greater impact in interdicting the drug trafficking than can be achieved in the distant end of traffic routes, and because of those results we are encouraged to continue our efforts.”


Operation Martillo was launched in mid-January 2012.  Participating in the ongoing exercise are a host of countries, including ours.  While Belize is strategically positioned in the upward path of the transshipment route, Honduras has emerged as the destination of choice for cocaine suppliers.  Eighty percent of all drugs heading north lays over along its coast.


John Murphy

“We do see the highest amounts of flows that are coming from the maritime and air environment coming through Guatemala and Honduras and making its way up to criminal organizations in the country of Mexico and across the southwest border into the United States.  There is a direct correlation with the amount of murders within, for example, the country of Honduras.  The country of Honduras has the highest homicide rate in the world.  The country of Honduras has the highest homicide rate for any city in San Pedro Sula of one hundred and sixty-two murders per one hundred thousand.  That is also the highest rate in the world and it is dead center in the primary flow of cocaine coming through their country.”


In the most expensive initiative in Latin America since the Cold War, the United States has militarized the war on drugs, spending north of twenty billion dollars in the past ten years.  But that is about to change.  Sequestration, as it is called, is the result of significant belt-tightening within the defense budget.  The work of the United States Southern Command, particularly through JIATF South, has been remarkable over the past fifty years; however, ongoing and future efforts are being threatened by budgetary constraints.    These limitations have compelled member states to work closer with each other towards achieving a singular objective.


Col. Gregg Gillian

“We’re working hard to bring together the combined resources of all of our nations and we’ll continue to partner with all of the countries in the Southern Command area of responsibility to improve our capacity to work together, to share our techniques and tactics.”


Traffickers, on the other hand, are equally up to par with innovation by improving on speed and stealth.  The past few years have seen the rise of the semi-submersible, or what is known in military parlance as a narco-sub.


John Murphy

“The primary means of movement of bulk amounts of cocaine comes by way of the go-fast.  Other means of movement would be through airplanes; however, there’s also a more insidious movement of large amounts of cocaine, as you can see behind me here we have a sem-submersible vessel that can move very large quantities, up to about eight metric tons at a time.”


Since its launch a little over a year ago, approximately one hundred and fifty-three metric tons of cocaine, divided into bales, have been stopped from making shore in the United States as a result of Operation Martillo.  Over twenty-six thousand pounds of marijuana and a little over seven million U.S. dollars in dirty money, as well as a few hundred drug runners have also been busted in international waters, all from this Naval Air Station in Key West. Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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3 Responses for “On patrol with the US Southern Command”

  1. Rod says:

    Whenever the us establishes drug inttelegence in a country people end up dead FBI CIA. Dea etc create caoas in the country and people always end up dead like in Venezuela, Honduras Nicaragua be very weary of this situation.

  2. blackberry says:

    The money spent to send these reporters to Florida would have been better spent on sending them along our western border to document nationally and internationally the incursion, migration, destruction, and silent invasion of our border and by extension our national sovereignty

  3. antonio d says:

    its disgraceful to have the largest drug user country as our neighbor.Their crave for drugs will cause all countries in the vicinity to become infested

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