The Borderline Spectator

Drug Smugglers Like the Sequester

The Coast Guard is doing less guarding these days.

By 3.24.14

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South American drug smugglers probably don’t care whether the U.S. has enough military power to fight two wars in distant lands simultaneously, but they do care about the size of the budget of their nemesis: the U.S. Coast Guard.

Smugglers in Latin America have increasingly turned to shipping drugs to the United States by boats instead of small airplanes. The numbers spell out the logic. A small airplane can carry about one ton of drugs; a boat may carry as many as 20 tons of cocaine. 

The Coast Guard, which can make drug arrests hundreds of miles offshore — and does — had to reduced its operating costs by 25 percent in the 2013 fiscal year — thanks to the iron collar of the “Sequester.” It also lost important back-up help it was getting from the U.S. Navy when the Navy’s ships on drug duty in Latin America were decommissioned and not replaced — thanks also to the Sequester.

While cuts were being activated the territory where boats were being seized off California and northwestern Mexico grew by 300 percent to an area the size of the state of Montana.

Admiral Robert Papp, the head officer of the Coast Guard, recently told the Associated Press, “Our interdictions are down 30 percent from the year before...that’s an indicator to me that, as soon as we starting pulling assets away, they (smugglers) are running more drugs and they’re getting through.”

According to the Coast Guard, the 194,000 pounds of cocaine seized last year was 40,000 pounds fewer than the year before. It isn’t because South American coca plant growers have cut back on their crops. As one senior Coast Guard office puts it, “The Coast Guard’s aircraft and ships have cut back on fuel, so every hour we’re not in the air or on the water, it leaves a gap.” The smugglers have been quick to fill the gaps.

Swamped by the problems of Obamacare, one of the president’s goals has been barely mentioned: Intercepting 40 percent of illicit drug shipments by 2015. Indeed, seaborne smuggling is hardly mentioned by those who harp on border security. The concentration is on the flow of illegal people and drugs coming across land borders to Arizona and California. Pushed by Congress, the government has built more and better fences, discovered several smuggling tunnels, enhanced electronics and beefed up the number of Border Patrol personnel. All this while our capacity to meet the growth of seaborne smuggling is forced to decline.

Whatever they think of medical or recreational marijuana, most people would agree that they do not want the amount of “hard” drugs smuggled into the U.S. to grow. What can be done about it? For starters, the president could interrupt his non-stop campaign plugging the wonders of Obamacare, and spend a speech or two on the dire smuggling situation. Since this is also campaign election season, it provides a ready-made issue for alarmed incumbents and one for candidates challenging stand-pat office holders.

 

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About the Author
Peter Hannaford was closely associated with the late President Reagan for a number of years. He is a member of the board of the Committee on the Present Danger. His latest book is “Presidential Retreats.”