When the Caribbean became a superhighway for drug trafficking in
the 1980s, it became the inspiration for a TV show - "Miami Vice."
Today, the azure waters of Florida are once again threatening to
become a major artery in the narcotics trade. As US antidrug
authorities have shifted their resources to the porous borders of
Mexico and Canada over recent years, drug smugglers have been
prompted to once again test the waters of the Sunshine State.
Where's Crockett and Tubbs when you need 'em?
Even more alarming is how Sept. 11 has opened the floodgates in
these pristine waters. With terrorism a top priority, no longer are
US boats so vigilantly patrolling the coastal waters in search of
drugs. Large amounts of antidrug resources and manpower have been
diverted to that effort. The result: a boomtime for drug peddlers
off America's coastlines.
"We've got the makings for a real upsurge in drug trafficking and
an inability to cope with it," says William Walker, a professor of
history and international relations at Florida International
University in Miami. "They are seeing [drug-running] speed boats
they haven't seen in south Florida in 20 years."
Indeed, the Coast Guard has seen its drug seizures plummet since
crews were sent to guard ports and oil refineries. Well over half of
the Coast Guard's anti-drug activities were redirected after Sept.
11, causing a 66 percent drop in cocaine seizures from a year ago,
and a more than 90 percent drop in marijuana seizures. Experts say
that the redeployment of resources is even affecting the Pacific
coast, where drug traffickers are attempting routes they haven't
tried in decades - or even creating new ones.
"One consequence of our shifting efforts is going to be less drug
interdiction on the oceans, which creates an opening for
traffickers," says Peter Andreas, a professor of international
studies at Brown University in Providence, R.I.
FBI agents are now spending much of their time chasing the money
trail of Osama bin Laden instead of the money trail of drug lords.
Customs surveillance planes and radar, once used to detect drug
transit routes, are now devoted to counter-terrorism surveillance.
And many DEA agents have been reassigned to airport security or as
"Unfortunately, this is the way this game is played," says Stan
Furce, director of the Houston High Intensity Drug Trafficking
Areas. "The bad guys are always trying to get drugs into the US
where they think they will get the most payoff. They know the Coast
Guard has pulled back, and they are taking advantage of that. …