The government denied that Puerto Rico has become a "narco-state," after local economists' estimates that the illegal drug trade contributes about 20 percent of the Caribbean island's gross domestic product were released.
Important members of Gov. Luis Fortuño's administration rejected the characterization of Puerto Rico as a narco-state, a situation being heavily reported in the local media.
Prof. Jose Alameda, an economic professor at the University of Puerto Rico in Mayaguez, told Efe that the figure of $9 billion, or 20 percent of the GDP, that some of his colleagues have estimated as the weight of illegal drugs in the island's GDP is feasible.
Drug trafficking "tends to insert itself into the governmental framework" and Puerto Rico's strategic location as a bridge between drug-producing and -receiving countries has contributed toward allowing the illicit activity to flourish on the island, Alameda said.
Since the mid-1980s, Puerto Rico has been heavily linked to the international drug trafficking economy, especially to cocaine, which found a perfect location where it could grow in a society such as the one on the island afflicted by social breakdown and the loss of values, the economist said.
Criminal organizations since that time have fostered the growth of the underground economy and consolidated the role of Puerto Rico as a drug transit point between South America and the United States and Europe.
Although the U.S. commonwealth is facing a serious social problem due to the incidence of drug activity, Puerto Rico cannot be spoken of as a narco-state, Puerto Rico's representative to the U.S. Congress, Pedro Pierluisi, said.
"To characterize Puerto Rico as a 'narco-state,' drugs would have to have penetrated to the highest government offices, which is not the case," Pierluisi said.
It is an insult to describe Puerto Rico as a narco-state, Justice Secretary Guillermo Somoza said.
That would mean that the drug would have penetrated all local institutions, Somoza said, adding that he did not know of any case in Puerto Rico where a judge, prosecutor or head of a government agency was involved in drug trafficking.
The newspaper El Nuevo Dia noted in its Monday issue that already in the mid-1990s the then-speaker of the island's house of representatives, Zaida Hernandez, noted the alleged links of four members of that body to drug trafficking.
The complaint was rejected by the then-justice secretary, Pierluisi.
Puerto Rican police have also been tainted by drug trafficking as reflected in October 2010 when the FBI carried out in Puerto Rico the largest operation in its history against police corruption linked to drug trafficking.
The operation resulted in the arrests of 133 suspects, including police officers, public officials, army soldiers and former military officers who worked to provide protection to drug traffickers during illicit transactions all over the island.
Puerto Rico, is moving dangerously close to fulfilling the criteria used by the United Nations to define a territory as a narco-state, El Nuevo Dia said.
The paper noted that the island has problems of a lack of transparency in its institutions and a state apparatus that is incapable of exercising its authority in certain areas, has been suffering from an economic crisis for more than five years and is facing a situation where several drug trafficking groups are challenging the state.