Jamaica PM pins blame on lax counter-drug unit

KINGSTON, Jamaica—Prime Minister Bruce Golding said Thursday his government shook up an anti-drug police unit after Cuba complained that the force had been uncooperative in preventing Jamaican drug smugglers using speedboats and small planes to move narcotics.

Golding’s announcement followed the publication of a leaked U.S. diplomatic memo that portrayed Jamaican anti-drug officers as being so unresponsive that more than a dozen Cuban officials privately vented their frustrations to a U.S. drug enforcer in 2009.

The August 2009 communique released by WikiLeaks said Cuban officials described officials in the neighboring Caribbean country as ignoring efforts to stop traffickers who use Cuban waters and airspace to transport narcotics destined for the U.S. It was apparently written by America’s chief diplomat to Cuba.

Golding said Thursday that Cuban Interior Ministry officials had voiced the same concerns directly to his government last year, and as a result, the head of a counter-drug police unit was replaced and the law enforcement agency was reshuffled. The identity of the unit commander was withheld.

Since then, the prime minister said, there has been “full and active cooperation between Jamaica and Cuba on counter-narcotics surveillance and interdiction, and no concern has been expressed by officials of the Cuban government.”

Officers from the new counter-drug unit and other personnel have made several visits to Cuba, the most recent about a month ago, to brainstorm strategies in combating drug traffickers, Golding said.

Still, the image of Cuban Interior Ministry officials so frustrated that they would complain to an American envoy is stark, especially since crime has long slowed economic growth in Jamaica.

Jamaica slipped into a cycle of violence in the 1970s, when rival political factions armed gangs to rustle up votes and intimidate opponents. The situation worsened in the 1980s as Jamaica emerged as a transshipment point for South American cocaine.

The placid tourist resorts that dot Jamaica’s coastlines remain virtually crime-free, but the government is in the midst of the toughest anti-gang crackdown in the island’s history elsewhere.

The main opposition party, the People’s National Party, said Jamaica has a sullied image in the international community “arising from the perception (if not the reality) that the current government is at best soft on drugs.”

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