Governor asks Biden for more drug-fighting resources
By John McPhaul
Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia asked President Joe Biden in a letter on Wednesday to allocate more resources from the federal government to combat drug trafficking taking into account that Puerto Rico’s geographical location exposes it as an entry point for illegal drugs, in order to reinforce short- and long-term initiatives that lead to significant reduction in the entry of illegal drugs.
“The murder of a federal agent and the injuries suffered by two other agents last week demonstrate how extremely violent these criminal organizations are, whose members disrespect law enforcement, American citizens living in Puerto Rico and those living in the rest of our Nation,” the governor said in a written statement. “For this reason, I ask for more direct assistance from the federal government, including more resources, so that our federal agents, who dedicate their lives to the security of our people, can more effectively combat everything related to drug trafficking and the violence it causes.”
The governor was referring to the violent incident last Thursday in which U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer Michel Maceda died in the line of duty while participating in an intervention off the coast of Cabo Rojo.
Pierluisi said the rise in the level of violence caused by drug trafficking is due in large part to the island’s strategic location because it is a transshipment point for the smuggling of illegal drugs from Central and South America, as well as from other Caribbean islands, to the mainland United States.
“Drug trafficking in the Caribbean is a national security dilemma,” the governor said. “That is why, while you were vice president and I was resident commissioner in Washington, the federal government took firm positions on this issue by establishing the interagency ‘Caribbean Border Initiative’ to significantly increase the number of federal agents who were deployed throughout the island.”
During National Red Ribbon Week in October, Pierluisi had indicated that the close collaboration between state and federal authorities has been key to highlighting the fight against drug trafficking and the use of illegal drugs.
Between 2019 and 2020, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reported the need to have more federal presence on the island because Puerto Rico, Florida, California and Pennsylvania are the four jurisdictions with the highest number of illegal drug seizures. The federal agency emphasized, in those same years, the trafficking of drugs from the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico through the Mona Passage and that the criminal organizations involved in trafficking used the U.S. Postal Service, as well as other commercial and various maritime vessels for illegal smuggling from Puerto Rico to Florida.
“It’s no coincidence that the illegal drugs seized in Florida and Pennsylvania come from the Caribbean,” Pierluisi said.
In April of last year, federal agents seized 2,378 kilograms of cocaine, and another 609 kilos on July 7 of this year. So far in the seven weeks of federal fiscal year 2023, 19,601.36 pounds of drugs have been seized. To carry out investigative work on the island, federal authorities have the assistance of hundreds of officials and agents of the Puerto Rico government from the Police Bureau, the Treasury Department, the Special Investigations Bureau and the Department of Correction and Rehabilitation who are assigned to various task forces.
“I appreciate your attention to this issue that not only impacts the 3.2 million American citizens residing in Puerto Rico but all those who live in the Nation,” the governor said. “I am confident that we will continue to work together to safeguard American citizens from the violence and illegal activity of drug traffickers, who with their actions poison our communities and do harm to our future generations.”
Copies of the letter were sent to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, DEA Administrator Anne Milgram and White House National Drug Control Director Rahul Gupta.