More than 80,000 Colombian service members have been deployed throughout the country since mid-March to enforce the Iván Duque government’s measures to contain the coronavirus spread. Despite the coronavirus emergency, the Colombian Military Forces continue their relentless fight against narcotrafficking.
“We’ve managed to capture 31 individuals, and this disrupts the finances of narcotrafficking,” Colombian Navy Rear Admiral José David Espitia Jiménez, head of Naval Operations, told Diálogo regarding the Navy’s achievements since the quarantine was first announced on March 20. “We intercepted two vessels used for narcotrafficking, as well as four semi-submersibles.”
While the entire country is on lockdown, narcotrafficking organizations and other illegal armed groups haven’t ceased their criminal operations; quite the opposite, said Rear Adm. Espitia. “We do not think this will affect the situation, and certainly not criminal groups that engage in narcotrafficking — they are going to increase their activities,” the officer said.
For example, on March 24, just days after the country’s quarantine declaration, units of the Navy’s Pacific Naval Force intercepted a semi-submersible carrying 1.1 tons of cocaine near the port of Buenaventura, Valle del Cauca department, off Colombia’s Pacific coast. The service members seized the vessel and detained four crew members (a Mexican, an Ecuadorean, and two Colombian nationals). According to data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the drug would be worth nearly $31 million on the U.S. market.
On March 25, elite Army units from Cauca department, in Colombia’s Pacific region, seized more than 13 tons of chemicals for the production of cocaine at a checkpoint on the Pan-American Highway. According to the Army, the substances were to be used to manufacture more than 6 tons of cocaine.
Activities related to coca growing and harvesting continue to take place, meaning that the entire narcotrafficking chain remains active despite the coronavirus threat and the government’s measures to stop the spread of the virus. The Colombian newspaper El Espectador reported that in late March the Military Forces intensified their eradication operations in Putumayo department, near the border with Ecuador and Peru.
“Armed players retaliate against the communities because of coca crop substitution or eradication,” a member of the National Association of Rural Producers in Putumayo told the newspaper. According to estimates from the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), published on March 5, 2020, coca crops in all of Colombia increased from 513,979 acres in 2018 to 523,863 acres in 2019.
According to Rear Adm. Espitia, from March 6, when the first coronavirus case appeared in Colombia, until March 31, the Military Forces seized more than 22 tons of cocaine. In the first three months of 2020, the Armed Forces confiscated more than 116 tons of cocaine, some with the support of the United States, he added.
“International cooperation in the fight against drugs and the efficient coordination of operations has allowed for consolidation of the capacities of the Colombian Navy and JIATF South [Joint Interagency Task Force South], resulting in the detection and seizure of more than 18 tons [of cocaine] in the first quarter of 2020, a $606 million economic impact that will no longer reach the international market,” Rear Adm. Espitia said.
“We have to remain vigilant in the war on drugs and in the fight against narcotrafficking, because we know that criminal logic doesn’t use the same criteria, principles, and values that we do,” the officer concluded. “In criminal logic, this [coronavirus] situation can be seen as an advantage. What’s important to clarify is that those who work throughout the chain of illicit narcotrafficking are people who are much more exposed, because under their criminal logic, they don’t follow the recommendations or orders that authorities issue.”