The United States Coast Guard seized roughly 19,000 pounds of cocaine, more than 1400 pounds of marijuana in months long operations on eastern Pacific that will culminate Friday morning as the cutters return to dock in Florida. Moreover, the massive law enforcement operation also led to the apprehension of approximately 20 drug smugglers who were manning what are known as low-profile ‘go fast vessels’ to transport the narcotics into the United States. However, the escalating concerns over the coronavirus pandemic has federal law enforcement officers questioning why the drug smugglers, who may have been exposed to the coronavirus, are being processed and taken into U.S. custody.
“We may be getting more than narcotics because these smugglers could be exposing all of us to coronavirus,” said one law enforcement official, who spoke to this reporter on background because they were not authorized to speak on the matter. “It seems we just don’t have a plan to deal with the virus in these situations.”
The seizures by the Coast Guard are part of the combined task force known as the Panama Express Strike Force (PANEX). It is a federally approved Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) consisting of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Drug Enforcement Administration, United States Coast Guard, Internal Revenue Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
The recent Coast Guard seizures are touted by federal law enforcement and military officials as a massive success. The cocaine seized in the operations have a street value of roughly $570 million “at 30 thousand dollars a kilo if you buy in bulk but with two kilos you can make three kilos and then it can break down even more,” said one federal law enforcement official familiar with the seizure.
The United States Coast Guard confirmed to SaraACarter.com the quantity of narcotics seized during the operations. However, officials did not immediately respond Thursday night on the details of the operations or how the smugglers now in U.S. custody will be processed and tested for COVID19. This story will be updated if and when a response is received.
Several of the law enforcement officials who spoke to this reporter said conditions on the make-shift vessels used to smuggle the narcotics into the United States are unsanitary and create numerous health problems, even without the threat of coronavirus exposure. However, the possible threat of contracting the virus by bringing the smugglers into the United States, they said, outweighs the necessity to have them in custody.
“We have Senators getting coronavirus and you’re telling me some drug mule living in squalor in some village with lack of sanitation is totally healthy,” said one law enforcement official. The official added, “we need to be concerned about the fact that there is no way to determine if any of these smugglers came into contact with someone carrying the virus and who’s going to watch them once they’re processed, where are they going to be held in quarantine or are they going to be tested? If they do have it, what will happen to all the officers who came into contact with them while they are here.”
The Coast Guard cutters involved in the operation will dock in various ports in Florida Friday morning, and some of the cutters have been at sea for more than a month apprehending drug smugglers and interdicting go fast vessels on the high-seas, said the sources.
And it appears the drug cartels are exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to their benefit, U.S. officials are saying.
On Wednesday, Gen. Mark Milley sent a scathing warning to the drug cartels during the White House’s daily Coronavirus Task Force briefing. He said “we came upon some intelligence some time ago that the drug cartels, as a result of COVID-19, were going to try to take advantage of the situation and try to infiltrate additional drugs into our country.”
“As we know, 70,000 Americans die on an average annual basis to drugs,” he said. “That’s unacceptable. We’re at war with COVID-19, we’re at war with terrorists, and we are at war with the drug cartels as well. This is the United States military. You will not penetrate this country. You will not get past Jump Street. You’re not going to come in here and kill additional Americans. And we will marshal whatever assets are required to prevent your entry into this country to kill Americans.”
The situation in Florida is even more precarious, officials said, after passengers on two cruise liners off the state’s coast became ill from the virus. On Thursday the cruise ships finally reached a deal with authorities in Florida to debark sick passengers from the ships. Holland America was allowed to dock two of its ships, the Zaandam and the Rotterdam, at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. USA Today reported that two of the four deaths on board the Zaandam were COVID-19 related and nine people have tested positive for the virus. According to Holland American, the Zaandam and Rotterdam a total of 107 passengers and 143 crew members have presented flu-like symptoms since March 22, according to a Holland America statement provided by spokesperson Sally Andrews.