Panama seized a record haul of more than 128 tons of drugs in 2021, President Laurentino Cortizo said on Sunday, a figure representing a 43% increase from the previous record of 90 tons from 2019.
"In 2021, as a result of 565 operations against organized crime and drug trafficking, 128.7 tons of drugs were seized," Cortizo told the National Assembly parliament.
In 2020, despite lockdown measures imposed to stop the spread of the COVID
-19 pandemic, Panama recorded its third-largest haul of 84 tons.
The news comes a month after Panama announced a record haul of drug money – more than $10 million in cash, which took investigators more than 12 hours to count after a seizure from a house in Nueva Providencia, in Colon province.
Cortizo, in his remarks to lawmakers, added that Panama's murder rate in 2021 was 11.5 per 100,000 inhabitants, "mostly linked to organized crime."
"In the fight against crime I have not negotiated nor will I negotiate with criminals," insisted Cortizo.
Panama is Central America's entry point for drugs produced in South America – largely cocaine from Colombia – destined mostly for the United States.
Authorities say drug trafficking from Caribbean ports to Europe is also on the rise.
In recent weeks, Panamanian police dismantled two criminal groups under Colombia's Gulf Clan cartel, which controls around a third of cocaine production in the South American country – some 300 tons.