A huge shipment of cocaine that customs and border patrol agents found in Norfolk, Virginia this month has sent more than 50 Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and other federal agents scampering to the South Caribbean island of Trinidad as authorities on both sides of the Atlantic try to come to grips with what is now emerging as a well organized ring that probably smuggled hundreds of tons of cocaine into American cities in the past two years.
The shipment of 732 pounds of cocaine concealed in grapefruit juice cans is worth more than $100M and carried the label of S. M. Jaleel, a prominent Trinidad manufacturing company.
The firm has denied any involvement in the shipment in the 20-foot container. And pointed to discrepancies in the packaging and labeling of the juice cans. Agents say the bust was the largest in the history of Norfolk and they are now beginning to fully understand that similar sized shipments might have passed through Norfolk ports in the past two years.
The bust has thoroughly embarrassed the administration of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar especially because it has not been able to fend off criticism from locals that it lacks the political will to go after the ‘big fishes’ in Trinidad, those who could afford to find the cash to fund such a large consignment of cocaine to the US and those who are known or suspected of being big governing party financiers.
Part of the problem is that Trinidad lies just seven miles from the South American continent and is known to be the most accessible point for smugglers and traffickers seeking planning to use the Caribbean island chain and Central America to funnel drug shipments to Canada and the US.
The prime minister was, however, among the first to acknowledge the difficulty authorities encounter in dealing with the drug trade, the smuggling of guns and other trans border crimes. She said at the weekend that “it has been known for a longtime that this country is a transshipment point for drugs. The matter is under investigation and very sensitive and it would be inappropriate to comment.”
She also did say that electronic security is being beefed up at ports with the purchase of high tech scanners. The Mexican drug cartel has been known to be operating way south of their base in recent years, taking advantage of lax security in the regional tourist paradise.
Local media reports indicate that the DEA and FBI agents on the island have narrowed down the players to a few prominent businessmen and that requests for warrants are to be issued as early as this week.
Investigations so far indicate that the smugglers had been using a number of dormant or defunct private companies to produce paper work to make the shipments and hide their true identities but former owners have stepped forward bravely to say that the shipment had nothing to do with them.