The end of pandemic-related lockdown is bringing a wave of cocaine to Puerto Rico

Coast Guard Caribbean cocaine Puerto Rico
Coast Guard cutter Heriberto Hernandez crew members offload over 200 kilograms of cocaine, valued at over $5.6 million, at Coast Guard Base San Juan, March 2, 2021.

  • A surge in cocaine seizures indicates that routes through Puerto Rico are reactivating after pandemic-related dormancy.
  • Puerto Rico has strategic value for traffickers moving drugs to the US because of its status as a US territory.
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Puerto Rico is seeing a surge in cocaine seizures, indicating that drug flows are being reactivated after months of dormancy amid pandemic lockdowns and that the island is on track to tally a record drug haul in 2021.

The latest seizure occurred on April 17, when the United States Coast Guard intercepted a speedboat traveling along the coast of Aguadilla that was carrying 400 kilograms of cocaine, El Nuevo Día reported.

According to Puerto Rican authorities, the total amount of cocaine seized was up by nearly half year-on-year through March and 64% through mid-April.

On April 8, Puerto Rico tallied a record cocaine haul, according to the Associated Press. Puerto Rican Police Commissioner Antonio López reported the seizure of 2.4 tons, valued at $50 million. López explained that the drugs were being transported in speedboats off the southeastern town of Yabucoa.

One month beforehand, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported the seizure of almost two tons of cocaine, also in Yabucoa.

According to InSight Crime’s press monitoring, around six tons of cocaine have been seized from January to late April along the island’s Caribbean Coast. This compares to 15.6 tons for 2019, already one of the highest totals on record, according to data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

In its most recent National Drug Threat Assessment, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) mentioned that Puerto Rico is used as a transit point by Dominican, Colombian and Venezuelan drug traffickers, as well as Mexico’s Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación – CJNG).

The island offers strategic value for traffickers moving drugs to the United States due to its status as a US territory. Once the drug shipments enter Puerto Rico, they are more easily transported to the continental United States, as Puerto Ricans can transit freely and do not have to go through customs controls.

InSight Crime analysis

Coast Guard Caribbean cocaine Puerto Rico
Coast Guard crew members offload 302 kilograms of cocaine valued at $8.5 million in San Juan, Puerto Rico, January 28, 2021.

Puerto Rican authorities believe that the spike in cocaine transiting the island is due to the months of restrictions on transit amid the pandemic, the testing of new trafficking routes and the backlog of accumulated drugs.

“[Due to the confinement], drug traffickers had difficulties in moving merchandise. The consequence may have been that the drugs accumulated and they are looking for ways to enter the drugs,” Lt. Felícita Coreano, director of the Puerto Rico’s United Rapid Action Force (Fuerzas Unidas de Rápida Acción – FURA), told El Nuevo Día.

According to the DEA, cocaine shipments enter Puerto Rico almost entirely by sea. The shipments are mostly sent by speedboats and fishing vessels from Colombia and Venezuela. These boats usually make a stop in the Dominican Republic, where the drugs are collected by criminal networks who then move them to other destinations, including Puerto Rico.

However, in its latest report, the DEA warned of a new speedboat route directly connecting Venezuela to Puerto Rico and bypassing the Dominican Republic. This route could be behind the increasingly large shipments found in the US territory.

“[The drug traffickers] are looking to expand and find new shipping routes,” Habib Massari, a drug policy expert in Puerto Rico, told El Nuevo Día.

Investigations conducted by InSight Crime in the Caribbean indicate that a number of criminal networks in Puerto Rico provide logistical services for international traffickers, especially Dominican groups.

Dominican groups are responsible for coordinating drug shipments from Puerto Rico to the United States ­- particularly to northeastern states – via shipping containers, messenger services, private planes and “mules.”

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1 in 9 people in Puerto Rico left the territory in the last decade, new US Census data release shows

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A man waves a national flag as protesters march through San Juan May 13, 2015.

  • The US Census Bureau released its first wave of 2020 Census data on Monday.
  • The newly released data show Puerto Rico lost a ninth of its population over the last decade.
  • Earthquakes and hurricanes crippled the territory’s infrastructure in recent years.
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Puerto Rico lost a ninth of its total population between 2010 and 2020, according to the newly announced 2020 Census data.

The territory’s total population decreased 11.8% over the past decade, the largest drop of any state or territory counted in the Census. In total, about 440,000 fewer Puerto Ricans were counted in the Census in 2020 than in 2010.

Additional insights from the new Census data include:

  • West Virginia lost the greatest number of residents and decreased by 3.2%.
  • Utah gained 18.4% and was the state with the largest percent growth.
  • The total population of US and Puerto Rico combined grew 7.1%.

Destructive hurricanes rocked Puerto Rico in 2017, devastating the territory and causing a temporary shutdown of its entire power grid, more than 40,000 landslides, and close to 3,000 deaths. The territory also experienced a series of destructive hurricanes in 2019 and 2020, including 11 that were categorized as magnitude 5 earthquakes or higher.

The federal government’s response to the natural disasters in the territory took years to fully take effect after President Donald Trump withheld nearly $13 billion in aid until 46 days before the 2020 presidential election.

Read more: New York could have kept a House seat if just 89 more people had been counted in the 2020 census

The majority of Puerto Rican residents voted in favor of US statehood in a referendum included in the 2020 election season. The House narrowly voted to add Washington, DC, as a state on April 22 but has yet to vote on Puerto Rico statehood since the referendum.

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The new governor of Puerto Rico expects ‘considerable support for a statehood bill’ from this Congress

Pedro Pierluisi
Puerto Rico governor Pedro Pierluisi answers questions during a press conference on August 2, 2019 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

  • Puerto Rico’s Governor told Axios that he expects the House to introduce a statehood bill in March.
  • The territory voted in favor of statehood by a slight margin. 
  • Gov. Pedro Pierluisi is hopeful that statehood could grant residents more rights and privileges. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Puerto Rico’s new governor said that the current Congress is “morally obligated” to act quickly on a statehood bill for the territory after residents voted in favor of it during their last election, Axios reported. 

Gov. Pedro Pierluisi told Axios on HBO that he expected the House of Representatives to introduce a bill by mid-March.

“What I anticipate is that there will be considerable support for a statehood bill in this Congress,” Pierluisi said. 

Pierluisi, who was elected governor in the November election and sworn in last month, ran on a promise to gain statehood for the territory, the Associated Press reported. 

The vote for statehood won by a slight margin, with 52% of Puerto Rican voters in support and 47% against. Pierluisi told Axios that statehood is the best way for residents of the territory to get equal treatment with their stateside counterparts. 

“We need a game-changer in Puerto Rico. And one game-changer would be that we get equal treatment in key federal programs,” Pierluisi said, referring to programs like Medicaid and the Earned Income Tax Credit. 

Read more:  Trump just beat his 2nd impeachment conviction, but a massive tsunami of legal peril still awaits

While Puerto Ricans are citizens of the US, they can’t vote for the US president and don’t have representatives in Congress with full voting powers.

Before becoming governor, Pierluisi was Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner in Congress for eight years. This representative is able to vote on matters in the committees on which they serve but is unable to vote on the final passage of bills or for the Speaker of the House. 

“The US could be expanding by admitting Puerto Rico into the union,” Pierluisi said. “It would be telling the world that it is embracing diversity because this would be a truly, completely Hispanic state.”

Advocates say that President Joe Biden’s support of the idea, as well as Democratic control of the House and Senate, makes the idea of statehood, which has been discussed in the past, more likely.

But not all Democrats have been in favor of the idea. Last August, New York Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Nydia Velazquez proposed legislation that would have allowed the territory to become independent, have self-determination, or become a state, NBC reported.

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China now holds the world’s last giant, single-dish telescope after the Arecibo Observatory radio telescope collapsed

Photo taken on Sept. 24, 2016 shows the 500-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope in Pingtang County, southwest China's Guizhou Province. The FAST, world's largest radio telescope, measuring 500 meters in diameter, was completed and put into use.
China’s 500-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST).

  • China’s Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST) is the largest and last remaining giant, single-dish telescope after Arecibo’s collapse.
  • As China’s moon mission advances, experts say the via its resolution and sensitivity, the FAST telescope will help produce critical research over the next decades.
  • Opened in 2016, in November, Chinese state media reported that FAST could welcome foreign scientists in 2021. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

After tragedy struck the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico on Wednesday, the scientific community mourned the loss of an astronomical landmark.

There is now only one last remaining giant, single-dish, radio telescope in the world: China’s 500-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST). 

Completed in 2016 and located in the Guizhou province of southwest China, the observatory cost $171 million and took about half a decade to build. Its sheer size allows it to detect faint radio-waves from pulsars and materials in galaxies far away; 300 of its 500-meter diameter can be used at any one time.

Experts say that in the next decade, FAST is expected to shine in terms of studying the origins of supermassive black holes or identifying faint radio waves to understand the characteristics of planets outside the solar system. 

In November, Chinese state media reported that in 2021, the FAST facility would become open to use for foreign scientists. 

The National Astronomical Observatory under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which oversees FAST, did not immediately respond to comment.

Before and after shots of the Arecibo telescope.

There were some functions that Arecibo’s telescope could do that FAST can’t, however.

“For observation within the solar system, Arecibo was able to transmit signals and receive their reflections from planets, a function that FAST isn’t able to complete on its own. The feature allowed Arecibo to facilitate monitoring of near-Earth asteroids, which is important in defending the Earth from space threats,” Liu Boyang, a researcher in radio astronomy at the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research, University of Western Australia, told the South China Morning Post

As Business Insider reported earlier in the week, China has made significant strides within the space race as the US has suffered a setback.

China’s Chang’e-5 probe landed on the moon this week, collected lunar samples and the samples have made it back to its orbiter, which will start the process of a weeks-long journey back to earth to deliver the samples. Today, Chinese state media and NASA shared images of China planting its flag on the moon.

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