U.N., Panama target illicit container cargo
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and Panama this week launched a joint program intended to prevent illicit and counterfeit goods from entering markets through seaports.
The program includes the launch by UNODC of the Centre of Excellence on Maritime Security in Panama City and the opening of a regional office for Central America, Cuba and the Dominican Republic, with financial support from the Panamanian government.
The center will help identify threats to maritime security and serve as a resource of expertise, training, data collection and analysis, UNODC said in a news release Tuesday.
The agency's new operational hub in Panama City will also allow the organization to provide more effective advisory services to countries in the region, with the flow of narcotics from the Andean countries to North America a key concern.
'Seventy percent of crimes in Central America are directly linked to drug trafficking,' said Juan Carlos Varela, Panama's foreign minister. 'This reinforced focus on maritime security will help the governments in the region to tackle the common threat of organized crime.'
Cargo containers are the main delivery methods for illicit goods, UNODC's Deputy Executive Director Francis Maertens said during a visit to the port of Balboa in Panama.
'Better container security can raise the risks and lower the benefits to organized crime,' Maertens said.
Roughly 11 million containers pass through the Panama Canal every year. Since joining UNODC's World Customs Organization Global Container Control Program last year, Panama has significantly increased the number of seizures of illicit goods hidden in containers, the agency said.
'Thanks to improved intelligence and information-sharing, in just seven months Panamanian authorities have managed to confiscate 146 containers transporting drugs and counterfeit goods, with a value of over $20 million,' Maertens said.
Highly sophisticated concealment methods are part of the problem, but law enforcement agents at ports are often hampered by inter-institutional mistrust, corruption, complex port processes, lack of resources and dangerous conditions, UNODC added.