Colombia and International Security Agencies Work Together on Drug Trafficking
By Julieta Pelcastre/Diálogo July 11, 2017Representatives from the Colombian Navy, the Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF South), the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Service, and French Customs held the second Interagency Exchange of Experiences and Proposals on Maritime Drug Trafficking. Organized by the International Maritime Analysis Center Against Drug Trafficking (CIMCON, per its Spanish acronym), at its facilities in Cartagena, Colombia, the gathering brought together 90 participants, including, notably, personnel from different Colombian Navy units and forces such as the Caribbean Naval Force, the Task Force Against Drug Trafficking No. 73, and Colombian Coast Guard Stations. The Maritime Customs Service of Germany participated as an observer. “Drug trafficking is a priority issue for South America, Central America, and the Caribbean due to the high rates of violent crime from heightened drug trafficking activity,” Colombian Navy Rear Admiral Juan Francisco Herrera Real, the commander of the Task Force Against Drug Trafficking Neptuno No. 73, told Diálogo. The event provided spaces for exchanging information and experiences so as to promote institutional and interagency cohesion and cooperation in the fight against illegal drug smuggling, especially by sea. The participants attended a series of presentations on security topics which are of shared interest to the partner countries. With help from the North “JIATF South supplied [us] with information showing a drastic reduction in departures from the Caribbean coast of Colombia up to the month of May,” Rear Adm. Herrera said. He added that with the information provided, Colombian authorities were able to evaluate the effectiveness of their efforts to neutralize the movement of drugs to other countries. “The main conclusion was no because the drugs are still being moved out,” he said. JIATF South helps to combat illicit drug smuggling by land and sea to different countries around the world, including Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Spain, France, Mexico, Peru, and the United Kingdom. This working group is coordinated by the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) and is composed of military members and security and intelligence organizations. “The most used means of transporting drugs to international markets is by sea. If we want to be effective and have positive results, we need to work at the international level on this complex issue,” Rear Adm. Herrera said. Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, Mexico and the Dominican Republic are also exit points for drugs headed to the United States and Europe. According to the Colombian Naval Authority, the country went from having 70,000 hectares of coca crops in 2015 to more than 100,000 hectares in 2016. The Colombian government estimates that there will be upwards of 175,000 hectares under cultivation in 2017. The sum of new efforts “A number of drugs transported by drug traffickers to the European market from Colombian ports were almost 30 metric tons of cocaine in the past two years, according to European authorities,” Rear Adm. Herrera explained. The participating delegations agreed to strengthen their intelligence activity, information exchange, criminal investigation, and the communication and cooperation among international agencies, ports and maritime zones. “In addition to boosting security at Colombian, European, and other ports, the international security agencies should share a bit more classified information in terms of security and defense,” the security analyst and researcher at the National University of Colombia Rubén Sánchez, told Diálogo. Colombia is analyzing its entry into the Global Container Control Programme developed by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the World Customs Organization. The program seeks to reduce the use of maritime containers for illicit activity. “Because drug trafficking is an international threat, the efforts and strategies of Colombian authorities against this scourge and other threats have been strengthened by the exchange of information, training, and education provided by SOUTHCOM, the Police Community of the Americas, and other international intelligence agencies,” Sánchez said. “This cooperation has changed the way drug traffickers behave. Now there is more activity in the Central American region.” Participants committed to continuing to work on the issues raised and strengthening shared strategies and partnerships on security matters. “In the next few months, we will have more results that will benefit Colombia and the region. The more information is shared and new efforts combined, the more we obtain better results,” Rear Adm. Herrera concluded.