Fuel is used to process cocaine hydrochloride and for illegal mining.
The Colombian National Navy seized a canoe transporting 21 plastic containers with 1,050 gallons of fuel in the vicinity of Cabo Manglares, Nariño, on February 22, 2018. That same day, another boat carrying 505 gallons of fuel was intercepted in the same area in the Colombian Pacific.
“One of the issues we have is fuel smuggling, which is important to process both cocaine paste and cocaine hydrochloride,” Colombian Navy Captain Orlando Grisales Franceschi, commander of the Poseidon Counter Narcotics Task Force, told Diálogo. “A good portion of the fuel comes from the illicit extraction of groups at the margin of the law at the Trans-Andean Pipeline, which belongs to the Colombian oil company Ecopetrol.”
The contraband fuel was put at the disposal of a prosecutor in the municipality of Tumaco, Nariño. According to a Navy press release, authorities arrested five people during the two operations, and impounded the two vessels used for transport.
“Illegal organizations are able to acquire fuel at a low cost and make large profits. The [boat operator] buys a gallon of gas for $1.50; when it’s sold out at sea for illicit activities, the cost can range from $10 to $50,” said Capt. Grisales. “[By] March 2018, the Pacific Naval Force had seized more than 44,000 gallons of gasoline.”
In addition to its use as a basic component for cocaine hydrochloride production, gasoline is also crucial for transport. “The boats usually use two outboard motors, which have a high average consumption of fuel, since they carry two or three metric tons [of drugs] on voyages of some 400 nautical miles,” explained Capt. Grisales.
The frequent seizures also affect groups engaged in the illegal exploitation of mineral deposits in the region. According to the Navy’s report, these groups use fuel to operate their machinery. In February 2018, the 16th Fluvial Marine Battalion seized 542 gallons of fuel in the department of Chocó. The fuel, which was transported on two vessels in a branch of the Atrato river, was put at the disposal of the Colombian National Police in Quibdó, Chocó.
“In the area of the Atrato River, there are organized armed groups such as the National Liberation Army and the Gulf Clan,” said to Diálogo Colombian Navy Lieutenant Colonel Wisner Paz Palomeque, commander of 16th Fluvial Marine Battalion. “Both illegal mining and narcotrafficking provide financial resources that sustain these groups’ criminal capabilities.”
These blows to crime are the result of a Colombian Navy strategy that uses military troops on every tributary of Colombia to stop illegal activity along the most common routes used to transport goods. The seizures in Chocó are part of the daily work of the Titan Joint Task Force, a joint, interagency effort that conducts operations on different rivers, monitoring 22 municipalities in Chocó and two municipalities in Antioquia.
In the case of the seizures at Cabo Manglares, in the south of Tumaco and north of the border with Ecuador, strategies to fight against illegal acts have different fronts. “At the level of the Colombian Navy, we have combined operations with the Ecuadorean Navy in the northern zone; they have their Navy and Coast Guard there,” said Capt. Grisales. “We do exchanges of intelligence information, and we make use of resources, each within our respective jurisdictions.”
The presence of the Colombian Navy also generates trust within the population. In the Atrato River region, where 400,000 people live, the military checkpoints curtailed robberies and other intimidation that residents of the jungle area endured for years when they were under the control of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. “Few Colombians know of the enormous amount of bravery, resistance, and desperate optimism required of Colombians in the Atrato,” Lt. Col. Paz concluded.