SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador – El Salvador’s Customs Office (DGA) has a special list of 152 domestic cargo carriers suspected of transporting narcotics through Central America.
The Customs Office and National Civil Police (PNC) seized 498 kilograms of cocaine found in cargo shipments nationwide between June, when the list was created, and December 2013.
In total, El Salvador seized 789.5 kilograms of cocaine nationwide in 2013 after confiscating 363.5 kilograms in 2012.
“We want carriers to see that there is zero tolerance for those engaged in drug trafficking and that we have exhaustive controls along the borders to search for and locate illegal substances,” DGA Director Daysi Reynosa said.
The list was compiled based on seizures made throughout Central America between 2011 and 2012 from vehicles with Salvadoran license plates.
Of the 152 companies on the list, 76 are classified as “high risk” and the rest are classified as “medium risk.”
“[Cargo carriers] can hide drugs inside tires or in compartments hidden inside the truck,” Reynosa added. “The most common method is to try to hide drugs inside the merchandise so we must conduct a thorough search.”
At checkpoints, inspectors work in conjunction with the PNC, through the Narcotics Division (DAN) and the Cuscatlán Joint Group (GCC), an interagency group that works to fight the shipment of large quantities of drugs passing through the Central American nation.
The list is deemed successful as it has “intimidated” drug traffickers, customs officials said.
“The list is another tool for prosecutors to be able to carry out their work and prosecute the carriers arrested for drug trafficking,” Reynosa said.
Criteria for the list
To prepare the list, the DGA took into account recent seizures, the type of products being transported by the companies, whether the customs stamp placed on the cargo was been altered, whether a hiding place was found within the unit and the frequency with which a company’s vehicles arrive at a specific border checkpoint.
“When there are late arrivals at a border, tax diversions, inconsistencies in the statements regarding the products being shipped or infractions for excessive cargo – that raises the suspicions that they aren’t just transporting the declared products,” Reynosa said. “They might also have illicit cargo, like drugs.”
The carriers on the list are sent to a special hangar at the border checkpoints, where authorities conduct detailed inspections.
The Salvadoran Customs Simplification Law states that “the information of the carriers is confidential and private and will be made public only when required by the Attorney General or the relevant court.”
However, companies have recognized their inclusion on the list has an economic impact – without specifying the amount – and hurts their credibility with customers because they’re seen as potential agents for the drug trade, according to Nelson Vanegas, president of the Salvadoran Association of Cargo Carriers (ASTECA).
“Many of the carriers transport drugs inside the trucks,” he said. “We know that. But we have asked the Finance Ministry to publicly clarify that this list does not specifically imply illegal activity.”
President of the International Association of Cargo Carriers (ASTIC) Raúl Alfaro hopes the list leads to the apprehensions of major traffickers – and not just cargo carriers.
“If they arrest the driver of the truck, that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “They need to go directly to the source, which includes the leader of these operations. And if a business owner is involved [in the drug trade], they should arrest that person.”
El Salvador is the only Central American country with this type of list, though Honduras is in the process of preparing a similar one, according to authorities.