Colombian Army and Police Destroy Coca Operation
By Marian Romero/Diálogo August 22, 2017On July 18th in the rural municipality of Los Andes Sotomayor, the Colombian Army discovered a coca processing complex with the capacity to produce one and a half metric tons of cocaine hydrochloride per month. Inside the structure were different instruments and machinery used to produce the drug, as well as 220 gallons of coca paste used in the manufacturing process. “In the past few months, we have dealt heavy blows to drug trafficking structures since we found the place where the alkaloid is produced, and we destroyed the merchandise when it was ready for sale,” said General Sergio Alberto Tafur García, the commander of the Pegaso Task Force of the Colombian Army’s Third Division. “It is possible this way to affect the finances of criminal organizations.” In June, the Army and National Police located another cocaine hydrochloride processing plant in the rural municipality of Tumaco. Days later, they found another mega laboratory in the municipality of La Llanada with the capacity to produce seven metric tons of cocaine monthly. The complex was divided into 11 structures and had 50 kilograms of cocaine warehoused and ready for sale. The building housed materials and industrial equipment used for processing coca paste. Twenty-five beds and 700 kg of food were also inside. Nariño, concentrated drug trafficking area According to information from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Nariño is the Colombian department with the highest concentration of coca cultivation. One of the biggest obstacles to discovering the processing centers is their improvised character in remote areas, making it difficult for them to be identified from the air. The laboratories are structures made of plastic embedded in the thick jungle, where the small-scale cocaine hydrochloride manufacturing process requires more specialized machinery such as microwave ovens, industrial stoves, and centrifuge machines. They are located in areas precisely like this one, remote and difficult to reach due to their geographic conditions, with flat or slightly hilly terrain, sources of flowing water, thick jungle vegetation, and a wet climate. “The permanence of drug trafficking in the country has allowed criminals to find ingenious ways of processing coca with things that are cheap and easy to get. They build the distillation towers themselves and organize a laboratory with basic implements that are found in any home. They also use gasoline, acetone, lye, and other legal substances,” Gen. Tafur explained. Results of the Pegaso Task Force The priority of the Pegaso Task Force is to impede the illegal economy in this part of the country. Since establishing the Strategic Operations Center (CEO, per its Spanish acronym) in the municipality of Tumaco in January, it has been possible to integrate the operations of the military, police, government, and civilian institutions to eradicate the illicit crops. So far this year, the Armed Forces have destroyed 22 cocaine hydrochloride laboratories in Nariño and 80 laboratories for processing coca paste. They have arrested 21 individuals, seized 4,000 kilograms of cocaine hydrochloride and 215 kilograms of coca paste, and destroyed 6,800 gallons of coca paste in the process of boiling and decanting. They have also confiscated 650 kilograms of “creepy” marijuana for export. To prevent planting and replanting, they have destroyed 114 seedbeds with over one million coca plants, seized 33 metric tons of coca leaves, 18,700 gallons of liquid inputs, and 23 metric tons of solid raw material. Strategy against the drug trafficking production chain “The system of permanent threat in Nariño is special. It is one of the areas where there is the highest concentration of coca plants, and the organized armed groups are persistent; so we had difficulties at first in establishing CEO, and there were violent protests by the population,” said Major General Ricardo Jiménez Mejía, chief of the Joint Staff of the Colombian Army. “With time, the joint operations of the Army and police managed to eradicate more than 3,300 hectares of illicit crops in this part of the country.” The Comprehensive Plan to Fight Drug Trafficking in Colombia carried out by CEO is focused on eradicating illicit crops, criminal interdiction, the destruction of the alkaloid production chain, the transformation and development of communities and affected territories, and consumption. In Tumaco, the efforts are focused on the first three areas. “Establishing CEO in Tumaco has been crucial for strengthening our narcotics strategy. Before the work that was done was uncoordinated, each institution had its own results according to its specialty. For example, in all of the last year , we eradicated 1,800 hectares of illicit crops in Nariño, and this year  it was 2,700 [hectares] just halfway through the year,” Maj. Gen. Jiménez said. On the issue of crop substitution and development in places affected by drug trafficking, Nariño is making progress in accordance with the national government’s agenda and promoting the voluntary eradication and substitution of coca plants with legal crops. There are various agreements in various government agencies to implement the change. The agreements have been established with farmers who own two hectares or less of coca plants. Larger areas are considered industrial crops.