Colombia Openly Fighting Drug Trafficking
By Myriam Ortega / Diálogo June 08, 2017Colombia has 100,000 hectares of coca to deal with. Its goal for May 2018 is to eliminate half through crop substitution and the other half through forced eradication. On May 23rd,Colombian Minister of Defense Luis Carlos Villegas went before the Second Senate Commission and testified that, among other things, 3,500 hectares have thus far been voluntarily destroyed, and 15,000 hectares forcibly so. In terms of the effectiveness of the methods used, the minister clarified that “aerial spraying is 33 percent effective, that is, in an area that might have 100 coca plants, aerial spraying will kill 33 of them, which means you have to do three fumigations to finish the job.” Manual spraying by land, which is 95 percent effective, is what is now used. According to the Colombian Agricultural Institute, this prevents the regrowth of coca. While this crop intervention is direct, Colombian Army Major General Ricardo Jiménez Mejía, chief of Staff of Operations, told Diálogo that it is not the only intervention used. “We are working on different levels in the fight against drug trafficking, not only with crops, but we also attack agricultural inputs and precursors, production, distribution, and transport, as our main effort. In one way or another, we support both the Police and the Colombian Attorney General’s Office, in terms of money laundering and agricultural supplies.” Forced eradication happens in industrial crops where growers are unwilling to voluntarily replace the crops. “We have 9,000 men dedicated to the fight against illegal crops, 6,000 from the Armed Forces, and 3,000 split between police officers and civilians. It is an exercise that is coordinated within the ‘Victoria [Victory]’ and ‘Comunidades seguras y en paz [Secure and Peaceful Communities]’ plans, of the Armed Forces and the National Police, respectively,” Minister Villegas said. Territorial control After the signing of the peace accords, it became essential to have government presence in areas that FARC will be leaving (160 municipalities) in order to stop the expansion of coca crops and prevent Organized Armed Groups (GAO, per their Spanish acronym) from taking control of any territory. For that reason, the government seeks to promote socioeconomic development, infrastructure and security. The goal is to improve the standard of living of the civilian population. For that purpose, the “Strategic Military Stabilization and Consolidation Plan Victoria” of the Armed Forces General Command is outlining the path forward to achieve government control of the territory and to promote the creation of a stable and lasting peace. Currently, joint, coordinated and inter-institutional operations are conducted through the plan, which among other tasks seeks to neutralize guerrilla cells, GAOs and other criminal phenomena affecting the civilian population and national security. “The Armed Forces and the National Police are working hand in hand to affect these [GAO] structures because one way or another they harm the nation’s territory and threaten national security,” Maj. Gen. Jiménez said, adding that “the coordinated joint interagency work has allowed each and every one of our military victories in the past few years over phenomena of instability or those groups that have upset the country’s public order.” Minister Villegas specified that during the month of May, 132 members of the Gulf Clan were arrested, among them, 11 leaders. He also added that since the current government was installed, the group has lost more than half of its armed members. “They went from 4,200 to 1,570 thanks to support from the National Police and the Army during ‘Operation Agamenón’” he said. “Within the characterization made by the Ministry of National Defense, we have the responsibility... to practically attack four structures that are all throughout the country. One of them is the Gulf Clan, which represents around 92 percent; the ELN and ‘Los Pelusos,’ which represent four percent; and ‘Puntilleros,’ which represent two percent, both in Vichada and in Meta,” Maj. Gen. Jiménez said. Strategy at sea “Thanks to the maritime strategy that is being applied, we have an apparent blockade on drugs leaving. Go-fast boats and sailing cabotage vessels have been reduced this year. This assault on drug trafficking stems from our coordinated work,” Rear Admiral Juan Francisco Herrera Leal, commander of the Task Force against Drug Trafficking “Neptuno 73,” told Diálogo. “The Air Force has given us the opportunity to quickly identify contacts at sea to which we direct our assets for maritime interdiction.” Twenty-four percent of drugs arriving in the Caribbean are smuggled through the Atrato River. “Important blockades have been set up by the Titan Task Force – from Quibdó (Chocó) to Riosucio (Antioquia) by the Colombian Navy, and Brigade No. 17 of the Colombian Army from Riosucio to Bocas del Atrato. Finally, the work is completed thanks to alliances among peers in the Caribbean like Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, the United States, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica,” Rear Adm. Herrera concluded.