Forbidden Passages

How do drugs arrive in Cuba? Is our country a destination or a bridge for these substances? What is drug possession and when does it become trafficking? Is drug consumption sanctioned?

By: Susana Gómes Bugallo


2017-05-17 | 16:04:34 EST

Let's say a speed boat leaves Jamaica at full speed by sea. Let's say it's heading for the United States. Let us think that it carries a load that should not be discovered, because it is illegal. And imagine that, suddenly, it is detected by maritime authorities. No one wants to be "nailed". So forbidden packages are hastily thrown to the sea.

Let's say that the packages can weigh several kilograms, and that all of them add tons ... that they drift along in international waters for days or weeks. Finally, they end up in Cuba, in some of the beaches or coasts of our archipelago. And that morning there was no coast surveillance near that spot. Someone finds the damn load. And takes it home. He opens it, intrigued, and discovers its contents. He has in its possession a scandalous amount of one of the three businesses that provides the greatest profits in the world (along with trafficking in persons and the arms trade): drugs.

"We are going to fight drug trafficking, which is starting to threaten us, blood and fire." Those were the words by Army General Raul Castro at the First CELAC Summit in Santiago de Chile in 2013, when Operation Coraza Popular began in the country before the increase of events like the one described above.

Records and criminal proceedings were then more frequent because larger amounts of these substances came into the country than had hitherto entered. There was a new stage that has stabilized until today, when there is more and more specialization in the confrontation.

This was recalled by Mónica Corral Martín, prosecutor of the Directorate of Criminal Proceedings of the Attorney General's Office (FGR), who talked with JR about the current situation of this phenomenon in the island and the sanctions provided by the laws against crimes of this type.

How do drugs arrive in Cuba? Is our country a destination or a bridge for these substances? What is drug possession and when does it become trafficking? Is drug consumption sanctioned?

The prosecutor answered such questions, starting from the absolute truth that "the policy of the country before this evil that affects health and social life is zero tolerance; This is due to the severity of behaviors related to drugs, "she stressed.

Transit or Destination?

Cuba continues to be a transit country and not a recipient, Corral Martín said, and warned that this is happening because of our geographical position, which causes those who bring drugs to pass through Cuba before following other countries that are final destination, being major consumers.

Mónica Corral Martín. Photo: Susana Gomes Bugallo

Another way of entry - especially in the case of marijuana - are the drug packets coming ashore whose destination is not Cuba. The specialist says that they are usually boats that go to the United States from Jamaica. These traffickers are stopped along the way and, in order not to be detected, throw the drug into the sea. By the sea currents, they come to Cuba.

Although we continue to be a transit country, there are people who do bring the drug (as part of their package) to Cuba as a destination, the expert said and described the situation: They can be Cubans who reside abroad and sell part of the kilograms of their luggage. Inside those packages, anyone can put drugs on them without their notice.

"It is important to know that people can be used to transport illegal substances, and end up being victims of traffickers. Travelers are warned that they are responsible for their luggage, and even if they have brought that package on someone's behalf, they become drug traffickers, "she said.

This route is more prone to cocaine entry, Mónica Corral Martín said, because this way the marijuana is very easy to find. "As the forms of detection in ports and airports have become more sophisticated, the chances of marijuana entering the country have been reduced. But cocaine gets ingested: capsules are made, swallowed and come in the stomach or women can bring them into the vagina.

"If they come attached to the body is more difficult to detect, although there are protocols to identify the carriers, because they can not eat food while they have the drug, they must sit down in a specific way and meet requirements that are recorded since they get on the plane, "she said.

There are also risk flights, the prosecutor said, who are those who come from countries linked to drug trafficking and are placed greater attention and study of passengers. Sometimes when the plane arrives, the suspect is quickly intercepted.

National Production?

It is clear that the packages coming ashore are the main way of drug entry into the country, especially marijuana. These loads can be enormous, contrary to those entering via airports inside the people’s bodies. Coast Brigades (made up by people living near the sea shore) are responsible for preventing drugs from being found by would-be traffickers.

However, plantations of marijuana have been detected in Cuba in private farms in the eastern provinces. The prosecutor insisted that these are not significant figures. These people, in addition to the established criminal sanction, are punished by the administrative framework with the confiscation of lands or houses, or loss of the right of tenant or usufructuary, the expert said.

Other substances found are the synthetic drugs achieved by chemical processes that obtain the active principles of marijuana and cocaine. "There are new drugs every day and different ways of presenting them. Some countries sell them in stores in many ways that can be as simple as a seal or jar that simulates a condiment. These variants - difficult to detect - have also been found in Cuba, " Martin Corral said.

Consumption, possession and trafficking     

Drug-related offenses have several sanctioning frameworks, depending on social danger, the prosecutor explained. It is important to clarify that consumption is not sanctioned, because it is about sick people.

A consumer is that person who does drugs, but is not detected in possession. These are those who seek medical attention to detoxify from the habit or relieve any symptoms suffered. These people are helped and not punished by law. They may be witnesses on trials against a trafficker to prove that the accused is guilty.

"Anyone who smokes, inhales or injects drugs (in Cuba drugs are generally smoked) are protected by law because they are understood to be victims of the drug trafficker. This consumer needs the drug because he is an addict, and he becomes the target market "she said.

If someone is detected with the drug in hand, it is already considered possession and that’s a crime. They are people who are found with an amount of drugs that points to personal consumption, according to the lawyer.

"Possession is punishable by deprivation of liberty from one to three years in the case of cocaine; And from six months to two years, when it comes to marijuana. Although all drugs are harmful, marijuana is less harsh than cocaine; That is why their sanctions are inferior.

"There is a group of drugs with drug-like effects that people combine with alcohol. Their possession is also sanctioned, if they do not have a medical prescription. Resolution 335 of 2005 of the Ministry of Public Health defines what these medicines are, " the prosecutor said.

If the amount is high, it suggests that the purpose is to market. So it is a drug trafficking offense, the expert stated, and emphasized that the sanction depends on the intent and amount.

"Traffic has as a penalty for the basic figure (small scale) from four to ten years. It is aggravated, if large amounts are involved, between three and 20 years. This is determined in practice, are not established in the law, and depend on the situation in which they are detected. It may happen that someone is found with a cigar, but there are news that he is marketing it, "the prosecutor said.

"Another more severe figure is when it is related to international traffic, and can be sanctioned to 15 to 30 years or death. It is aggravated if it is a public official, authorities and their agents, if ships or aircrafts are used, or if a minor is involved, "she said.

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