Para ver este documento
en español, oprima aquí.
THE ORLANDO SENTINEL
Congress Hears Puerto Rico's Drug-War Needs
by Maya Bell
January 5, 2000
Copyright © 2000 THE ORLANDO SENTINEL. All Rights Reserved.
SWEETWATER -- Puerto Rico's former attorney general delivered
an after-Christmas wish list to Congress on Tuesday, telling members
that the commonwealth is unprepared to keep pace with traffickers
who have turned the island into a staging area for cocaine and
heroin destined for the United States.
But not for lack of trying.
Jose Fuentes Agostini, who resigned as Puerto Rico's top law-enforcement
official last week, said state and federal soldiers in the island's
war against drugs have established an award-winning intelligence
center but are stymied by an overburdened federal court system
and shortages in personnel and response equipment.
And come March, he said, the island's anti-drug task force
may be forced to sit and watch from the sidelines as cocaine-laden
planes leave the jungles of Colombia.
That's when a new radar capable of detecting planes flying
in a distant region will begin operating from Puerto Rico. Two
such "relocatable over-the-horizon radars" already are
in use in Texas and West Virginia, and the third one in the Caribbean
will help drug agents keep abreast of South American hot spots.
"We'll know whenever any aircraft takes off from the jungles
of Colombia, but how will we respond?" Fuentes asked the
House Committee on Government Reform, during a South Florida hearing
on drug trafficking in Cuba and Puerto Rico. "The capabilities
are not there."
As one solution, he suggested that Puerto Rico's anti-drug
forces be allowed to use eight Blackhawk helicopters assigned
to the Puerto Rican National Guard.
With two engines each, the choppers are ideal for flying for
extended periods over the ocean, Fuentes said. But sharing the
Blackhawks with the guard, which uses them primarily for training,
wouldn't come cheap. A mere hour's flight costs about $2,200,
and each helicopter would have to be equipped with infrared equipment
The Coast Guard cutters that ply the Caribbean are equally
ill-equipped, Fuentes said. Shipboard personnel have little trouble
spotting small boats that speed to Haiti to drop off loads of
drugs, which are later brought overland to the Dominican Republic,
and then smuggled on wooden boats to Puerto Rico for easy distribution
to the United States.
Catching them, though, is a different story. The cutters, Fuentes
said, can't chase boats zipping along at more than 50 mph. So,
added to his wish list are nine inflatable "go-fast"
boats, one for every active cutter. The cost: about $150,000 each.
Fuentes also requested: Two more federal judgeships and magistrates
for Puerto Rico, bringing the total to nine. One of the island's
seven federal judgeships has been vacant for seven years, Fuentes
said, creating a backlog that has all but paralyzed civil cases
and severely crippled criminal cases.
A quadrupling of immigration officials in Puerto Rico, from
40 to 160. Fuentes said that 95 percent of the all drugs ferried
into Puerto Rico are brought by illegal aliens from Colombia or
the Dominican Republic, yet U.S. immigration officials insist
that the problems of drugs and illegal aliens are unrelated.
Fuentes' requests did not fall on deaf ears. Rep. Dan Burton,
R-Ind., the committee chairman who has assailed the Clinton administration
for slashing anti-drug efforts abroad in favor of domestic prevention
and treatment programs, said he will send a letter outlining Puerto
Rico's needs to President Clinton and other government officials.