The New York Times
February 21, 2002

Massive Cocaine Shipment Seized in Panama

              By REUTERS

              PANAMA CITY (Reuters) - Authorities in Panama seized a huge (1,600
              kg) shipment of cocaine, worth an estimated $30 million, midway along its
              trip from Colombia to the United States, police said on Tuesday.

              The seizure marks Panama's first success under a new U.S-Panama maritime
              agreement to crack down on drug trafficking on sea routes between
              Colombia, Panama, the United States and Europe.

              The cocaine, wrapped in green-and-brown paper parcels and stashed in four
              fruit and vegetables trucks, was discovered as the fruit vehicles came off a
              container ship in the southwestern port of Puerto Armuelles near the Costa
              Rican border, Panamanian radio said.

              The shipment, which came from Colombia, was bound for the U.S drug
              market via Central America and Mexico, officials said. Police estimated the
              U.S. street value of the shipment at $30 million

              ``This significant seizure is the result of good collaboration with the United
              States and an efficient exchange of information. We will continue to work
              together to continue this process,'' technical judicial police officer Javier
              Cherigo told reporters.

              Last year, 80 percent of illegal drugs were smuggled through Panama by sea,
              compared with 20 percent 10 years ago, according to Panama's interior
              ministry. Panama is a key refueling point for ships smuggling heroine, cocaine
              and marijuana from Colombia to North America and Europe.

              Although drug seizures are relatively common in Panama, the amounts
              impounded are typically much smaller.

              Some 1,300 packets of the amphetamine party drug Ecstasy were also
              found in the trucks, radio reports said.

              Three Panamanians and four Colombians have been arrested following the
              haul, police said.

              The new agreement that led to the seizure broadens an anti-drug accord
              signed in 1991 and has increased the number of U.S and Panamanian ships
              patrolling Panama's Pacific and Caribbean coasts and intensified
              intelligence-sharing on maritime drug smuggling.