A November 23 joint operation by the Colombian Military Forces and the Office of the Attorney General resulted in the largest drug seizure of 2021 in a single operation: nearly 10 tons of cocaine ready for packaging and more than 10 tons of cocaine in the powder processing phase.
“With these seizures, we are preventing more than 25 million doses from reaching these markets, protecting the health and safety of all Colombians,” Colombian Defense Minister Diego Molano said.
The clandestine laboratory complex with multiple buildings and various equipment was hidden in the village of El Decio in the rural area of Samaniego, a municipality in Nariño state. Investigations by the Office of the Attorney General’s Technical Investigation Corps and the Army’s Command Against Drug Trafficking and Transnational Threats identified the location, which indicated that the structure belonged to a faction of the National Liberation Army (ELN, in Spanish).
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Nariño has the second highest amounts of land under coca cultivation, second only to Norte de Santander, out of the 20 Colombian states where such crops are found.
During the operation, authorities identified and destroyed close to 2 tons of solid chemical precursors used to manufacture cocaine, as well as equipment used to package and distribute the narcotic.
“Preliminary estimates indicate that the cocaine found is worth $12 million in the national territory,” said Colombian Attorney General Francisco Barbosa Delgado, adding that the drug was bound for Central America.
Weakening armed groups
According to information from the investigative organization InSight Crime, the ELN is the most prominent armed group in Colombia today. Its structure consists of seven fronts, known as “war fronts,” which are divided into smaller groups. Among them is the Jaime Toño Obando, which controls the southwest of the country and operated the laboratory complex destroyed on November 23.
That same day, in the state of Chocó, the Colombian National Police and the Military Forces carried out a raid that resulted in the neutralization of José Eliecid Gañan Bañol, one of the ELN leaders. Known as alias Shumager or Marlon, he was the head of the Western war front, which concentrates its criminal activities in the states of Risaralda and Chocó.
According to the National Police, alias Marlon had been in the ELN for more than 19 years and was “the perpetrator of the murder of multiple civilians, kidnappings, forced displacement of indigenous and Afro-descendant communities, recruitment of minors and terrorist activities against security forces in southern Chocó,” the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo reported.