With U.S. Gone, Panama Is a Mecca for Drug Trafficking
Gertz, Bill, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
Panama is a haven for illegal drug trafficking and money laundering that has grown worse since the pullout of U.S. military forces last year, according to a law enforcement intelligence report.
"Panama's corrupt and ill-trained law enforcement units continue to be overwhelmed by trafficking efforts and are basically ineffective in their struggle," says the internal report obtained by The Washington Times.
The May 2000 report says Panama has made "few inroads" in the battle against illegal drug trafficking and financial crimes during the first half of 2000.
The failure is blamed on the country's new president, Mireya Moscoso, and "the U.S. withdrawal and turnover of its military bases and the Canal in January 2000."
Panama's Tocumen International Airport has "a serious security problem . . . with internal conspiracies involving ramp and cargo personnel who facilitate narcotics loads," the report says.
Flights by the Panamanian carrier, COPA, will begin soon to Los Angeles and will create new problems for airline and airport security that "already has its problems keeping narcotics off . . . aircraft," the report says.
Chinese and Russian organized crime groups also are using Panama for smuggling illegal drugs, weapons and aliens.
"Intelligence sources indicate that Chinese and Russian organized crime factions are active in narcotics, arms and illegal alien smuggling utilizing Panama as a base of operations," the 11-page report says, noting that the number of Chinese nationals in Panama increased dramatically in the past five years.
The intelligence report was produced by a U.S. government law enforcement agency involved in monitoring imports. The name of the agency was withheld at the request of an agency spokesman.
The report also says a Chinese company that leased port facilities at either end of the Panama Canal obtained the concessions through "an unfair and corrupt contractual bidding process."
The company, Hong Kong-based Hutchison Whampoa Co. Ltd., runs the facilities at the strategic ports of Balboa and Cristobol, on the Pacific and Atlantic respectively. …