The amount of cocaine seized in Central America in 2017 was up on previous years, a trend that the International Narcotics Control Board has linked to greater production of the drug in Colombia and greater demand for it in the United States and Europe, according to a report published Tuesday.
The INCB's latest report said Central America and the Caribbean continued to be used by criminal groups for getting drugs manufactured in South America into the USA and across to Europe.
"Cocaine and cannabis are the drugs most frequently trafficked in large quantities through the region, and the most abused as well," the report said. "Overall, the quantities of cocaine seized in Central America increased in 2017 compared with 2016 and 2015."
The reason behind the hike in cocaine confiscations was due to an increase in coca bush cultivation and cocaine production in Colombia, combined with a growing demand for the drug in Europe and the USA, the report said.
Panama, which shares a border with Colombia, has been confiscating the most cocaine in recent years, having reported to the United Nations-linked agency that it seized 66.9 tons of the drug in 2017, which was 12.7 percent more than the previous year (59.3 tons).
Costa Rica observed a similar trend in 2017, seizing the second-largest amount of cocaine at 27.9 tons; 20.1 percent more than in 2016.
The drug arrived in Costa Rica via Panama, on its way to Mexico, the USA, and Europe from Colombia, the INCB said.
Guatemala meanwhile saw a 6.5 percent increase in cocaine seizures in 2017 (13.6 tons), while Nicaragua saw a 22 percent rise (5.5 tons).
The INCB said that Central America accounted for 11 percent of the total cocaine confiscations all over the world, most of which were undertaken in Panama.
Cocaine reached Europe via passenger flights, air freight, private aircraft, postal systems, yachts and shipment containers, the report said.
A total of 70.9 tons of cocaine were seized in the European Union in 2016.
Belgium overtook Spain as the EU country where the most cocaine was seized (30 tons versus 15.6 tons).
"The importance of cocaine trafficking routes to Europe through the Iberian Peninsula may have slightly declined in favor of ports in other European countries," the INCB said.
An estimated 34.2 million people used drugs worldwide in 2016, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.