23 June 2010 - To further strengthen measures against organized crime in Central America, UNODC has launched the Centre of Excellence on Maritime Security in Panama City and opened a Regional Programme Office for Central America, Cuba and the Dominican Republic. These efforts aim to prevent illicit and counterfeit goods from entering markets through the world's ports.
"Most of the world's trade is shipped by containers, which means that containers are also the main delivery system for illicit goods", said UNODC Deputy Executive Director Francis Maertens, adding that "better container security can raise the risks and lower the benefits to organized crime".
The UNODC-World Customs Organization Container Control Programme helps countries identify suspicious cargo with the creation and use of intelligence and timely information-sharing. Since it started in 2006 in eight countries (Cape Verde, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Ghana, Pakistan, Panama, Senegal and Turkmenistan), the Programme has yielded impressive results: 38 tons of cocaine, 770 tons of precursor chemicals and 1,550 tons of illegally-logged wood.
Improving container security in Panama's ports is also a priority since more than 11 million containers pass through the Panama Canal every year. Since joining the Global Container Control Programme in October 2009, Panama has significantly increased the number of seizures of illicit goods hidden in containers. "Thanks to improved intelligence and information-sharing, in just seven months Panamanian authorities have managed to confiscate 146 containers transporting drugs and counterfeit goods, with a value of over US$ 20 million," said Mr. Martens.
The recently-opened Centre of Excellence in Panama City will help diagnose threats in maritime security and serve as a resource of expertise, training, data collection and analysis. It will provide strategic direction and training in search techniques, security, maritime interdiction, human trafficking and the handling of hazardous and toxic cargo. The new UNODC operational hub in Panama City will also allow the organization to provide more effective advisory services to countries in the region.
Drugs flowing from the Andean countries to North America is a key concern. "Seventy per cent of crimes in Central America are directly linked to drug trafficking," says Panama's Foreign Affairs Minister Juan Carlos Varela. "This reinforced focus on maritime security will help the governments in the region to tackle the common threat of organized crime".