Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares (semisquare-x3)
Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares (GFR Media)

Federal authorities in Puerto Rico are requesting the U.S. government to allocate more resources to stop drug trafficking, and to recognize the island as a border, like México.

Yesterday, Acting US Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico Rosa Emilia Rodríguez said that they need additional funds to deal with drug trafficking and gangsters wars on the island which rise she considers is the standard at this time of the year. 

Although she said she is confident that those levels will return to "normal" as a result of several initiatives on agenda, Rodríguez noted that, to fight crime tied to drug trafficking, they need more personnel and resources.

In that sense, Rodríguez demanded that the US government finally treat the island as a U.S. border just like they treat the U.S.-México border, where President Donald Trump wants to build a wall.

Trump's argument is that there is a "humanitarian crisis" at that border, which seriously affects security levels due to drug trafficking.

"They do not recognize us as a border," said Rodríguez. "President (Donald Trump) has his ideals and interests aimed at making a wall in the south (U.S.-México border w), but we need other efforts," she said.

She added that Puerto Rico is the southernmost border of the United States, which is part of the United States, and that's how they should recognize us.

"We still do not have all the resources that other U.S. jurisdictions have. We have limited resources," Rodríguez said yesterday to reporters at La Fortaleza, where she met with Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares.

She also anticipated that next week she will have a meeting with Resident Commissioner in Washington D.C. Jenniffer González, because she has been carrying out “extraordinary efforts to see if they can give us more resources."

A few days ago, González sent a letter to the US Department of Justice and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen stating that Puerto Rico has one of the highest crime rates in the United States, but that it is not given equal treatment in the allocation of human resources to law enforcement agencies.

According to González, Nielsen promised to visit the island and survey available resources, but that he would do it "once the government shutdown and the México border crisis are over."

Last month, Rodríguez said during a press conference that the lack of personnel in most agencies got worse after hurricane María because many employees moved to other jurisdictions.

She even mentioned that they had to increase incentives to attract personnel.

Meanwhile, FBI Special Agent in Charge Douglas Leff said that his office is also requesting Washington headquarters for additional resources.

Seeking to make positions in Puerto Rico more attractive, they are even offering candidates the possibility to stay on the island instead of being transferred to other US jurisdictions.

James N. Doby, Assistant Regional Director for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said that the agency continues investigating drug trafficking, as usual, but admitted they need more personnel.

In an interview with El Nuevo Día, Doby said that Puerto Rico is a difficult territory to cover and that they call volunteers to come here. He also noted that unfortunately it has been hard to fill positions. That is why they offer incentives to recruit people to come to the island.

He said that there is no magic number, but if they had additional agents, they could be in a better position to identify and deal with the threats. 

And it's a big threat. In fact, Doby said that drugs trafficking in the Caribbean has increased dramatically in the last few years.

According to the DEA, in 2010, drug trafficking from Colombia to the Caribbean region reached 35,000 kilos which reached about 185,000 kilos in 2017.

"What happens is that production has simply increased in South America, which increases the flow," said Doby, who knows the region well, because before coming to Puerto Rico he was working in the US Virgin Islands.

He said that drug trafficking may increase in Puerto Rico if the plans of the federal government to increase security at the border with México worked.

"If you put more pressure on one side of the region, it will reflect on the other side of the region ... If you put more pressure on México, you can expect more activity in the Caribbean," he said.

Many drug seizures in Puerto Rican coasts are made the Coast Guard and FURA, in coordination with other agencies, such as the Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

Precisely, since last year, CBP has been publicly recruiting in Puerto Rico, but yesterday it was not possible to obtain comments from that agency since part of its staff has been sent home due to the partial federal shutdown. 

However, CBP is one of the agencies that expressed the need for more resources, both personnel and resources, to develop better surveillance strategies for the over 1,000 miles of coastline in Puerto Rico.

El Nuevo Día found out that, for years, CBP in Puerto Rico does not have the same priority it has in other U.S. areas, despite the fact that drug seizures result in almost the same amount as in areas at the border with México, which is a larger area. 

The difference with Puerto Rico is that patrolling at sea is more difficult than on the ground.

Even with the increase in drug trafficking levels, it is still estimated that 20 percent of the imported drugs stay in Puerto Rico and 80 percent continues to the United States, according to Iván Arvelo, the special agent in charge in of the Homeland Security Investigations Office of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Puerto Rico.

However, Arvelo considers that his office on the Island has received the resources he considers necessary to comply with its priorities.

"At the ICE level, the leadership recognizes the importance of Puerto Rico in the whole scheme, being a Caribbean islands that serves as a trampoline," Arvelo told El Nuevo Día.

He stressed that the visit of ICE director Matthew Allen to San Juan last September, resulted in an increase in recruitment to fill some vacancies, which he hopes will result in greater support for state authorities.

Although in the United States, ICE has initiatives aimed at directly confronting criminal organizations - such as MS-13 - Arvelo said that in Puerto Rico it is different because there are no transnational gangs on the island.

"They are home grown. We have to use another jurisdiction to get what we want, regarding firearms, money laundering and drugs distribution," he explained.

A new initiative

Rodríguez's meeting with the Governor also included heads of several federal agencies, as well as the Secretary of Public Safety Héctor Pesquera and the Secretary of Justice Wanda Vázquez.

After the meeting, Rodríguez said that they discussed putting emphasis on several joint efforts to address criminal activities such as what she called "trigger pullers", which consists of an analysis on the use of weapons, as well as the "Safe Neighborhood" program, to increase citizens cooperation to solve crimes.

However, she noted that the main initiative is Pesquera´s proposal that they prefer not to discuss publicly.

"It's going to be an impact initiative," Rodríguez said.

Pesquera only indicated that the objective is to analyze intelligence reports on criminals, go to specific areas and look for the evidence to prosecute them. 

The Police will ask for more funds

Yesterday, Chief of Staff Raúl Maldonado said that next week he will submit a request for additional funds for the Police budget to the Board. 

He indicated that the proposal will aim to increase patrolling and other public protection measures. 

Pesquera said they were going to submit the proposal to the Office of Management and Budget yesterday.

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