Puerto Rico is on track to set a dubious crime record with at least 847 murders so far this year, or 140 more than this time last year. Officials say 75 percent of the murders are drug-related.
CBS News correspondent Kelly Cobiella reports that its Caribbean location and political status make the commonwealth an ideal route for cocaine traffickers
It's past midnight, and a team of Border Protection agents is flying over the busy waters between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, searching for smugglers. A boat, spotted by border protection, is racing toward Puerto Rico. On board is more than $1.4 million dollars in cocaine.
As Border Protection agents close in, the boat begins taking evasive maneuvers and dumping bales over the side.
Drug smuggling is as much a part of Puerto Rico as palm trees and sand - American sand. For drug traffickers that means once they get to Puerto Rico, no more customs checkpoints on the way to the mainland.Read a complete report on the rise in drugs and weapons trafficking in Puerto Rico
"If there's a way, they'll exploit it," said Pedro Janer, assistant special agent in charge with the DEA.
Janer said South American drug traffickers are feeling the squeeze on the U.S.-Mexico border, so they're trying their luck in the Caribbean. In Puerto Rico, cocaine seizures are up 30 percent since 2009.
"You know, it's raining money and drugs here in Puerto Rico," Janer said.
It's also raining bullets. This year is on track to be Puerto Rico's deadliest as drug gangs fight for control, and their war is spreading to highways and shopping malls.
"There is no honor anymore amongst the traffickers. Nowadays, the standing orders are: Kill where you find the person, and if that means he's at the restaurant eating with his wife and kids, that's where the shooting is going to occur and whoever gets hurt gets hurt," Janer said.
More and more guns are reaching the island. Delany de Leon-Colon with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service says there are even more so called "cop-killer" guns which can penetrate body armor.
Weapons get hidden in packages mailed from the U.S, postmarked for Puerto Rico, and destined for drug traffickers. People who live here say things have taken a turn for the worse, and some hear gunshots every night.
"There's anxiety on the street. There's desperation," said resident Alana Feldman Soler.
For the most part, the island's five million annual tourists have been unscathed, but the war is raging nearby.
In June, DEA and police agents raided a slum in Old San Juan, arresting dozens on drug charges. In this DEA video of the raid, it is easy to see just offshore a cruise ship filled with tourists sailing into port. The slum was the heroin capital of Puerto Rico - just steps from El Morro, the island's most visited landmark.
Watch video of Border Protection agents as they track a suspected drug trafficker
In this video, Puerto Rico Police Superintendent Emilio Diaz-Colon tells Kelly Cobiella that San Juan is "as safe as any other large city in the mainland."