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Panama´s extensive coastlines and its geographical position make it attractive to drug dealers moving their product from South America to the United States, Canada and Europe. The Pearl Islands were especially attractive for them but the Panamanian government decided to create coastguard bases all over its territory and the first was Isla Chapera, which is located to the south of Contadora, one of eight air-naval bases now operating in the country.
Isla Chapera has a checkered past, first it was a U.S. submarine base during World War II. Then in 2002, it was acquired by the alleged money laundering Colombian José Nelson Urrego for $1.5 million. After his arrest in 2007, the island was transferred to the Panamanian Air-Naval service and on December 2009 it opened its first Pacific base there.
Today the air-base in Isla Chapera with its jetty, fuel storage, helipad and zodiac boats is a permanent presence in Las Perlas Archipelago.
The irony is that the island formerly belonging to an alleged money launderer is now the place where operations are launched against drug dealers. However, the ownership of the Isla Chapera is still in dispute until Urrego’s fate is decided by the Panamanian courts.