Despite its location between some of the largest exporters of illegal drugs in the hemisphere and the U.S. market, Cuba is not a major consumer, producer, or transit point of illicit narcotics. Cuba’s intensive security presence and bilateral interdiction efforts have effectively reduced the available supply of narcotics on the island and prevented traffickers from establishing a foothold. The Cuban Border Guard (TGF) maintains an active presence along Cuba’s coastal perimeter and conducts maritime counternarcotics operations and patrols. As such, traffickers typically attempt to avoid Cuban and U.S. counternarcotics patrol vessels and aircraft by skirting Cuba’s territorial waters.
Cuba’s domestic drug production and consumption remain low due to active policing, harsh sentencing, very low consumer disposable income and limited opportunities to produce illegal drugs, either synthetic or organic. Cuba’s counternarcotics efforts have prevented illegal narcotics trafficking from having a significant impact on the island.
B. Drug Control Accomplishments, Policies, and Trends
1. Institutional Development
Cuba continued “Operation Aché,” a Ministry of Interior-led multi-agency counternarcotics strategy that aims to reduce supply through coastal observation, detection and interdiction, and reduce demand through education and legislation. The government’s extensive domestic security apparatus and tough sentencing guidelines have kept Cuba from becoming a major drug consumer. The government did not publicize information regarding new counternarcotics policy initiatives or related budget increases supporting such measures in 2013.
Cuba continues to demonstrate a commitment to counternarcotics cooperation with partner nations. The government reports 35 bilateral agreements for counterdrug cooperation and 27 policing cooperation agreements. Cuba regularly participates in international counternarcotics conferences, such as the UN Heads of National Drug Law Enforcement Agencies, and submits quarterly statistics on drug interdictions and seizures to the International Narcotics Control Board.
The 1905 extradition treaty between the United States and Cuba and an extradition agreement from 1926 remain in effect. In 2013, these agreements were not employed to hand over fugitives. However, Cuba demonstrates increasing willingness to apprehend and turnover U.S. fugitives and to assist in U.S. judicial proceedings by providing documentation, witnesses and background for cases in U.S. state and federal Courts. For example, in a recent kidnapping case, the Cuban government quickly apprehended and expelled two suspected kidnappers who had fled from Florida into Cuba with their non-custodial children.
2. Supply Reduction
Major transshipment trends did not change from 2012. In 2012, the most recent year for which most statistics are available, the Cuban government reported interdicting a total of 3.05 metric tons of illegal narcotics, 97 percent of which washed-up on Cuba’s shores. In 2013, customs reported disrupting 43 smuggling operations, seizing a total of 30.45 kilograms of narcotics. Authorities sanctioned 628 individuals on drug-related charges, 273 of whom received jail sentences ranging from six to 10 years.
There were no significant changes in Cuba’s overall counternarcotics strategy or operations in 2013. Domestic production and consumption remained very limited, and Cuba concentrated supply reduction efforts by preventing smuggling through territorial waters, rapidly collecting wash-ups, and preventing visitors from bringing smaller amounts of narcotics into the country. Military and Ministry of Interior radar systems, coupled with coastal vessel surveillance, make up an effective network for detecting illegal incursions of territorial air and sea. Cuba continues to share vessel information with neighboring countries, including the United States, and has had increasing success in interdicting “go-fast” vessels unilaterally and in coordination with other nations. In 2013, Cuba reported 27 real-time reports of “go-fast” trafficking events to the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG). TGF’s email and phone notifications of maritime smuggling incidents to the United States have increased in timeliness, quantity and quality, and have occasionally included photographs of suspect vessels.
Overseas arrivals continue to bring in small quantities of illegal drugs mostly for personal use. Cuban customs conducts thorough entry searches using x-rays and counternarcotics detection canines at major airports. Officials detained 69 individuals in 2012 for attempting to smuggle in small quantities of narcotics totaling 42 kg.
To combat the limited domestic production of marijuana, Cuba launched “Operation Popular Shield” in 2003 to prevent development, distribution and consumption of drugs. Under this biannual initiative, Cuban authorities conduct regular and surprise inspections of farms and arable land to detect and eradicate small patches of cultivation.
3. Drug Abuse Awareness, Demand Reduction, and Treatment
The combination of extensive policing, low incomes, low supply, strict drug laws, and long prison sentences has resulted in low illicit drug use in Cuba. There are nationwide campaigns aimed at preventing abuse, and the quantity of existing programs for the general population appears adequate given the relatively low estimated numbers of addicts. The National Drug Commission, headed by the Minister of Justice, with representatives from the Attorney General’s office and National Sports Institute, remains responsible for drug abuse prevention, rehabilitation and policy.
The Ministry of Health reports operating drug clinics that offer emergency care, psychological evaluation, and counseling to treat individuals with drug dependencies. There are no programs specializing in drug addiction for women and children. The government runs three substance abuse clinics that cater to foreigners, and the Catholic Church runs a center to treat addiction in Havana.
The government broadcasts anti-drug messages on state run media and operates an anonymous 24-hour anti-drug helpline. The educational curriculum includes warnings on the dangers of drug abuse.
Cuba has strong policies against illicit production or distribution of controlled substances and laundering of proceeds from narcotics transactions. Cuba professes zero tolerance for narcotics-related corruption by government officials and reported no such occurrences in 2013. As policy, Cuba neither encourages nor facilitates illegal activity associated with drug trafficking.
C. National Goals, Bilateral Cooperation, and U.S. Policy Initiatives
In 2013, Cuba maintained cooperation with U.S. counternarcotics efforts. The U.S. Interests Section has a USCG Drug Interdiction Specialist to coordinate counternarcotics efforts with Cuban law enforcement. The United States does not provide counternarcotics funding or assistance to Cuba.
On a case-by-case basis, the USCG and Cuban authorities share tactical information related to vessels transiting Cuban territorial waters suspected of trafficking and coordinate responses, as well as information on drugs interdicted within Cuban territory. Cuba also shares real-time tactical information with the Bahamas, Mexico and Jamaica. Bilateral cooperation in 2013 led to multiple interdictions.
Law enforcement communication gradually increased in frequency and transparency over the course of 2013, especially concerning efforts to target drug trafficking at sea. In December 2013, the U.S. and Cuba held a “professional exchange between experts” on maritime drug interdiction that included tours of facilities, unit capabilities, and possible future joint coordination. This exchange resulted in increased point-to-point command center communications and additional real-time information sharing.
In 2011, the Cuban government presented the United States with a draft bilateral accord for counternarcotics cooperation, which is currently under review. Structured appropriately, such an accord could advance the counternarcotics efforts undertaken by both countries.
Cuba dedicates significant resources to prevent illegal drugs and their use from spreading. The technical skill of Cuba’s security services provide an advantage against traffickers who attempt to gain access to the island. Greater communication and cooperation between the United States, international partners, and Cuba, particularly in terms of real-time information-sharing and improved tactics, techniques, and procedures, would likely lead to increased interdictions and disruptions of illegal trafficking.