The efforts of the Armed Forces of Colombia to address all the emergencies and needs due to the coronavirus crisis have not curbed their drug interdiction operations.
“Intelligence operations show that, at this time, while our units are also handling tasks related to COVID-19, there has been an increase in narcotrafficking groups’ attempts to smuggle drugs overseas,” Colombian Navy Rear Admiral Hernando Enrique Mattos Dager, commander of the 72nd Task Force Against Narcotrafficking, told Diálogo. “What they don’t know is that we are right there waiting for them, without letting our guard down.”
Colombian Navy units in the Eastern Pacific intercepted nearly 2 tons of drugs, in two operations coordinated by the Armed Forces only three days apart.
Rear Adm. Mattos highlighted allied countries’ collaboration under U.S. leadership for the outcome of these operations, which keep up thanks to “constant and daily cooperation from the United States, its technology, aircraft, maritime patrols, and the presence of its ships, which allow for sustainable operations on international waters, when it’s out of our hands.”
On April 3, service members of the Buenaventura Coast Guard Station aboard the ARC José María Palas (PM-103) found a shipment of narcotics camouflaged inside a type of fast boat in Buenaventura, Valle del Cauca, the Colombian Navy told the press. Service members found 1,318 pounds of marijuana, 613 pounds of cocaine hydrochloride, and 300 gallons of gasoline. The drugs seized were worth more than $12 million, the Navy added.
This operation enabled the capture of two Nicaraguan citizens, a Costa Rican, and a Colombian. Port Health authorities examined the detainees for signs of COVID-19 symptoms, said the press release.
“On March 31, during another interception, 120 nautical miles off Tumaco Port, Nariño department, the Tumaco Coast Guard crew detained a semisubmersible carrying 1.3 tons of cocaine hydrochloride. The shipment was valued at $37 million. During the operation, authorities captured the crew members: two Colombian nationals and one Ecuadorean, who also received a health examination,” said the Navy.
“This is a procedure we integrate into all of our interdiction operations,” Colombian Navy Commander Néstor Ovidio Castellanos, commander of the Pacific Coast Guard, told Diálogo. “We must guarantee the health of the detainees, even more so at this time, when we identify the growing participation of people from different countries of the region.”
Rear Adm. Mattos said that “as a result of a U.S.-led project, the Colombian Navy carries out operations so that countries of the region can improve their capabilities in the fight against narcotrafficking. Panama and Costa Rica currently have excellent results. Thanks to Southern Command units, we carry out daily coordinated actions, tightening the siege on illegal transnational groups.”
“We must continue our work, with all the comprehensive actions,” said Cmdr. Castellanos. “Crime doesn’t stop; on the contrary, it seizes every opportunity and every circumstance.”
“The Colombian Armed Forces’ capabilities continue to fight against narcotrafficking and other crimes; like all the countries of the world, we face a great pandemic, but we continue to do our work,” Rear Adm. Mattos told Diálogo, as he presented a summary of the counternarcotics operations for the first semester of 2020.
Drug seizures have exceeded records from previous years. “During the first quarter this year, the Pacific Naval Force intercepted 11 semisubmersibles and seized 46 tons of drugs. So far, service members have seized more than 70 tons of cocaine hydrochloride nationwide. Our people are doing their job to counter the pandemic, without stopping our fight against narcotrafficking,” Rear Adm. Mattos said.