Aruba has more problems thenNataleeHolllowayBy Jim KouriAug 10, 2005When Alabama teenager Natalee Holloway went missing in Aruba, America and the world beganto take a close look at the island. The way they have handled the Natalee Holloway case has putthe tiny islands� police department and courts under a high powered microscope. But if youthink the disappearance of Natalee Holloway is Aruba�s only problem when it comes to theissues of crime, think again.Located only 20 miles off the coast of Venezuela, the island paradise of Aruba serves as atransshipment point for illicit drugs�primarily cocaine from South America. Smugglers generallymove large loads of cocaine into Aruba on fishing vessels, private yachts, and go-fast boats. Theyalso move drugs out of Aruba inside maritime containerized cargo and airfreight. Drug traffickingorganizations continue to exploit Aruba�s air and sea links to the continental United States,South America, Europe, Puerto Rico, and other Caribbean nations. Most of the cocaine transitingAruba is destined for European markets�primarily the Netherlands.Aruba has large free-zone facilities (areas that allow goods to be held and then re-shippedelsewhere without paying an import or duty tax), which provide opportunities for bulk shipmentsof cocaine to transit the area without the scrutiny of local officials. Cocaine shipments incontainerized cargo increasingly are transiting the area, specifically through the free zone. Thefree-zone facilities on Aruba are conducive to transshipments, not only of drugs, but alsochemicals used in illicit manufacture of drugs. Some firms in the free zone are suspected ofinvolvement in money laundering.Couriers on commercial flights and cruise ships smuggle small (usually from 1- to 10-kilogram)amounts of cocaine and, to a lesser extent, heroin, into and out of Aruba, either concealed in their
luggage or taped to their bodies. Commercial air couriers, sometimes swallow up to 1 kilogram ofcocaine or heroin per trip. Drug couriers easily blend into the hundreds of thousands of touristswho visit Aruba each year.The proximity of Aruba to South America, a high standard of living in Aruba, and anunderdeveloped law enforcement infrastructure make the country an attractive meeting place forSouth American, European, and U.S. drug traffickers. Colombian traffickers play a major role inthe shipments of cocaine and heroin that transit the island, having forged trafficking relationshipswith local Arubans. In the past, some airline employees and cruise-ship personnel have smuggleddrugs through Aruba.Aruba plays a significant role as an offshore center for drug-related money laundering. Moneylaundering organizations are well established on Aruba and enjoy protection from considerablebank secrecy laws and a stable currency. The organizations use Aruba�s offshore banking andincorporation systems, free-zone areas, and resort/casino complexes to transfer and to launderdrug proceeds. Although money laundering was made illegal in 1999, the legislation requires aprovable underlying crime with a penalty of at least 4 years. The Government of Aruba also has anasset-seizure law that allows for seizure at the time of arrest to prevent criminals from movingassets prior to conviction.The Government of Aruba has recently issued several decrees on money laundering that includeincreased oversight of casinos and insurance companies. The Government of Aruba also is in theprocess of instituting reporting requirements for cross-border currency movements in excess of20,000 Aruban florins (approximately US$11,200). Aruba has a Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU),known as the MeldpuntOngebruikelijkeTransacties (MOT), and is a member of the EgmontGroup, an international group of FIUs.Aruba is not a source country for any of the chemicals used in illicit drug production and has nospecific legislation controlling essential chemicals. Difficulties abound when attempting to gaugethe levels of chemical transshipment through Aruba, as most chemicals legally pass throughAruba�s Free Trade Zone�an area in which local law enforcement has limited oversight due tolocal regulations and manpower shortages. The reporting of chemicals transiting the island isstrictly voluntary.
The Aruba Organized Crime Unit, a small investigative team of the Aruba Police, or Politie, hasresponsibility for investigating large-scale drug trafficking crimes. The Coast Guard of theNetherlands Antilles and Aruba (CGNAA) is responsible for maritime drug interdictions aroundAruba and the Netherlands Antilles. The Governments of the Netherlands Antilles and Arubahave agreed to work more closely with the other coast guards operating in the region in order topresent a united front against drug trafficking. The CGNAA has its own Criminal IntelligenceDivision (CID) which is separate from the Politie. However, due to Dutch law, unless the CGNAAcan demonstrate that a given vessel is either coming from or going to territorial waters of theNetherlands Antilles or Aruba, any drug law enforcement, other than an administrative boarding,is considered illegal. Dutch investigators also support law enforcement investigations in theNetherlands Antilles.Cocaine, heroin, and marijuana are readily available in Aruba. Wholesale amounts of cocaine sellfor from US$3,800 to US$4,500 per kilogram among drug traffickers; heroin sells for aboutUS$23,000 per kilogram; and marijuana sells for about US$2,000 per kilogram. These low pricessuggest a heavy flow of drugs into Aruba. According to Aruban statistics, an estimated 14 percentof Arubans regularly use illicit drugs.Aruba serves as one of two forward operating locations (FOLs) in the Caribbean for U.S.counterdrug aircraft. The FOL, located at Queen Beatrix Airport near Oranjestad, provides alanding and servicing area for counterdrug detection and monitoring missions in the region. TheUnited States and Aruba do not have a formal maritime law enforcement agreement.Sources: Central Intelligence Agency, Drug Enforcement Administration, National SecurityInstituteJim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police.