The Miami Herald
Feb. 05, 2003

Cuba gets tough on drugs

Usage jumped in past decade


  Acknowledging that increased drug use poses a threat to the socialist system, the Cuban government has launched a zero-tolerance campaign to stem the flow of narcotics making its way to and across the island.

  ''The battle against drugs in our country is consistent with the extraordinary human values and solidarity forged by the Revolution,'' Fidel Castro recently stated. ``In this confrontation, whatever instruments that are necessary will be used and resources will continue to be spent, despite our economic limitations, to combat to the death the battle against international drug trafficking and the incipient internal market.''

  The increase in drug use -- primarily cocaine and marijuana -- has become evident over the past decade and points to what analysts describe as a rule of law in the drug trade.

  ''If a country is involved in trafficking, inevitably that country will also become a consumer nation,'' said Eduardo Gamarra, director of the Latin American and Caribbean Center at Florida International University. ``Some of the drug that is transiting to Cuba is now being made available to Cubans.''

  It is difficult to gauge just how serious the problem is. But the government's public stance on the issue is an attempt to show that Cuba is intent on remaining an ''orderly, nonaddicted society,'' experts said.

  It also reveals a sense of panic about the political and sociological future of Cuba.

  ''This is the first time . . they are beginning to see a serious problem in terms of consumption; We're now seeing cases of an addict population in Cuba,'' said Gamarra, who has extensively studied the issue of drugs in Cuba. ``What I find interesting is that the Cubans are worried.''

  According to government statistics, authorities have confirmed at least 175 drug-smuggling attempts at Cuban airports between 1995 and 2002. During that same time, authorities arrested 252 foreigners and seized 65 tons of narcotics.

  Currently, there are 146 foreigners imprisoned on drug-related charges, either serving sentences or awaiting trial.

  Even though the amount seized represents a small portion, perhaps only 10 percent of what comes through the Caribbean, Cuba's location makes it attractive to dealers trying to get shipments to the United States and other consumer nations.

  Cuba's territorial waters and air space serve as a transshipment zone.

  ''Although Cuba is not a major transit country for cocaine destined to the United States, drug traffickers continue to use Cuban waters and airspace to evade U.S.
  interdiction assets,'' according to intelligence reports by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

  Intelligence reports also indicate that speed boats out of Miami used for human smuggling operations also are occasionally used to transport drugs.

  Traffickers also use Cuban waters to get drugs to Haiti and the Dominican Republic before transporting the loads to the United States.

  At a regional conference in Havana last month, Cuba's minister of justice blamed the domestic drug problem on the country's increasing openness to trade, tourism and economic relations with foreign entities.

  This report was supplemented with material from The Associated Press.