Often referred to as the land of lagoons and volcanoes, Nicaragua is a hotspot of biodiversity. Its freshwater lakes and rainforests have made the country an attractive destination for ecotourists and agritourists. As a result, tourism has increased greatly in the last six years making it the second largest industry in Nicaragua. Despite this boost in the economy, the country is still the poorest in Central America with widespread poverty and unemployment.
The relationship between Nicaragua and the United States has been a tumultuous one. From the U.S. occupation of Nicaragua in the early 1900s to the government’s support of the Contra in the early 1980s, the history of the nations has been hostile. Today a majority of tourists in Nicaragua come from the United States. However the Embassy strongly advises travelers to exercise caution when visiting Nicaragua as crime rates are up and many US tourists are being targeted. Although Duane, the subject of Locked Up Abroad: I’m Not a Terrorist was not a tourist, he learned firsthand the impact his nationality would have when he was imprisoned in Nicaragua.
When customs officers accused Duane of being strapped with a bomb, terrorism was the furthest thing from his mind. Instead he was contributing to a bigger issue in Nicaragua: drug trafficking. With two kilos of cocaine confiscated from his person, Duane was moved to La Modelo, the largest prison in Nicaragua. He was repeatedly referred to as a “Gringo” and labeled a “snitch” for simply being an American.
Though Duane only served three years in one of the most dangerous prisons, he was threatened with 99 years–one year for each percent of pure cocaine he carried. Drug trafficking is not taken lightly in Nicaragua, with some individuals being arrested based on hearsay alone. For example in recent months, supporters have been speaking out regarding the imprisonment of Jason Puracal, an American who was sentenced to 22 years in La Modelo for money laundering, drug trafficking and organized crime despite no evidence linking him to the accusations.
The impact of Nicaragua’s widespread unemployment has led many citizens into the world of drug trafficking. The country’s location makes it a major transshipment route for cocaine being transported from South America to the United States. In light of the increase in these issues both Nicaragua and the United States have shown mutual interest in the drug war and the fight against organized crime. The nations are both members of Operation Martillo, a joint effort between the United States, European nations and the Western Hemisphere to end drug trafficking on the coast of Central America.
The effort made by Operation Martillo has returned impressive numbers with 4,850 pounds of cocaine confiscated from a vessel in the Caribbean Sea in early May. Weeks later the coast guard intercepted the delivery of 2,450 pounds of cocaine into the United States. While cocaine trafficking has decreased in parts of Central America evidence suggests the issue is moving to the eastern Caribbean making the drug war far from over.
Don’t miss Locked Up Abroad: I’m Not a Terrorist, July 9 at 10p et/pt