PUERTO CORTES, Honduras, March 24 (UPI) -- Aggressive crackdowns on Mexican and Colombian cartels have moved drug smuggling into small Central American countries unable to combat it, officials say.
"This is David versus Goliath," Honduran Defense Secretary Marlon Pascua told The New York Times. "And we are David fighting the giant."
Of the known criminal groups funneling cocaine north to the United States, 84 percent of shipments crossed through Central America last year, radar tracking data from U.S. authorities indicates.
The figure was 44 percent in 2008 and 23 percent in 2006, the year before Mexican President Felipe Calderon took office and began his assault against the drug gangs in his country.
Five of Central America's seven countries are now on a U.S. "Majors List" of 20 "major illicit drug transit or major illicit drug producing countries," a United Press International review of a Sept. 16, 2010, determination memo by U.S. President Barack Obama indicated.
"This growing problem resulted in Costa Rica, Honduras and Nicaragua meeting the threshold for inclusion in the Majors List," Obama's memo said. "Panama and Guatemala, already on the Majors List, are especially vulnerable because of their geographic location."
The need to enhance counternarcotics measures to thwart smugglers took center stage when Obama was in El Salvador this week and announced a plan to fight organized crime in the region by strengthening civilian institutions and providing training for local authorities, weapons and equipment.
But such promises have been made before, and many Central American leaders are frustrated by the wait, the Times said.
Of $1.6 billion in law-enforcement support promised under 2007's anti-drug Merida Initiative between the United States, Mexico and the countries of Central America, $258 million was assigned to Central America.
But only $20 million was spent by April 2010, U.S. Government Accountability Office figures cited by the Times indicate.