Colombia drug bust shows intra-continent links

By Richard McColl, Wednesday, April 16, 2014

BOGOTA - The capture of an emissary of the Mexican-based Sinaloa drug cartel in the southern Colombian city of Cali along with 10 tons of cocaine last week highlights the international links of organized crime and some guerrilla and paramilitary groups in Latin America. 

Hector Coronel Castillo, alias Rincon, a confidante of the now imprisoned leader of the Sinaloa cartel Joaquin Guzman Loera, better known as Chapo Guzman, was captured in the El Ingenio district of Cali last Thursday.

Coronel Castillo operated as a go-between for the Sinaloa Cartel, the Urabeños criminal gang (made up of former paramilitaries) and the Daniel Aldana Front of the FARC guerrillas (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) regarding the purchase and transportation of cocaine produced in the departments of Cauca, Valle and Nariño, police said.

Colombia is the provider of 90 percent of the cocaine in the U.S .and 80 percent of the world supply, according to the Narcotics Affairs Section of the US Embassy in Bogota.  Its production and sale remains the main source of income for the illegal groups operating in the country.

 “Coronel Castillo is a Mexican citizen who answered directly to the Sinaloa cartel in that country and oversaw the coordination and purchase of cocaine and coca base from various groups in Colombia,” a police spokesman said, asking not to be identified.   

Both the finished product of cocaine and coca base, later to be processed in Mexico, would be shipped by land, sea or air to Guatemala or Mexico and then on to the United States.

“In a combined effort between law enforcement officials from the United States, Ecuador and Colombia, we have been able to capture a submarine, six fast boats, a plane and 10 tons of cocaine.” said the spokesman.

 “We cannot rule out the presence of further members of the Sinaloa Cartel in Colombia, but this arrest has permitted us to monitor their routes and disable a significant amount of their operations in Colombia,” the police spokesman said.

The arrest was a result of a 17 month surveillance operation organized by the Colombian Directorate of Criminal Investigation, Interpol and members of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). Coronel Castillo has been requested in extradition by the Federal Court of New York, according to Colombian police.

- Ongoing Woes

But the drug woes for Colombia remain despite the arrest.  

The Urabeños and another criminal group named the Oficina de Envigado have signed a truce in Medellin, according to Nnews outlet Noticias Uno, allegedly ending a brutal turf war over the control of the illicit businesses of narcotics and people trafficking through the city’s notorious comunas or shantytowns. The groups are prepared to now negotiate a peace deal with President Juan Manuel Santos’ government.

“This is good news, knowing that these individuals linked to violence wish to integrate and reconcile with society,” said the Archbishop of Medellin Ricardo Tobon, indicating that the Catholic Church has been involved in the facilitating the dialogues.  

But this would not be the first occasion where gangs have stated a desire to lay down their weapons and re-enter society. In 2013 a branch of the Urabeños known as the Autodefensas Gaitanistas wished to receive the same treatment from the government.

“Each time we (the police) increase our efforts against these groups and are successful, they begin to say that they want to lay down their weapons and cease their criminal activities,” said Jose Angel Mendoza, Chief of Police for Medellin.

The arrest of Coronel Castillo does come at a high point in the fight against drugs in Colombia. On Wednesday alone authorities were able to seize seven tons of cocaine produced by the Urabeños and hidden in pineapple pulp at the Caribbean port of Cartagena and on a boat destined for Europe.

On Thursday 0.4 tons of cocaine was captured on a boat registered in Sierra Leone at the Caribbean port of Turbo. Coronel Castillo himself is believed to be responsible for overseeing the transportation of as much as 10 tons of cocaine out of the country in 2013.

Demand however, also remains high. The latest estimates by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) indicate that 17 million people used cocaine at least once in the past year, equivalent to 0.4 per cent of the global population aged between 15 and 64.

Copyright © 2014 Anadolu Agency