Despite a year marred by the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) Rewards Program in Colombia continued to be successful.
In 2020, the program enabled Colombia’s security forces to conduct 14 operations against the narcoterrorist organizations of the Clan del Golfo, dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, in Spanish) and the National Liberation Army (ELN, in Spanish).
Colombia’s security forces involved with this program include the military along with the National Police and the Antinarcotics division of the Colombian National Police (DIRAN).
“This cooperation has allowed the deployment of impact operations, reflected in the increase in high-level human sources that have significantly and directly affected the illegal groups that are financed by the illicit drugs system,” said Major General Jorge Luis Ramirez Aragón, director of the DIRAN.
“This cooperation has allowed the deployment of impact operations, reflected in the increase in high-level human sources that have significantly and directly affected the illegal groups that are financed by the illicit drugs system,” Major General Jorge Luis Ramirez Aragón, director of the DIRAN.
“The allocation of resources by the United States has given continuity to the program in addition to the continued presence of U.S. Southern Command officials, who accurately and transparently provide training to our [Colombian] forces as well as administer payment of rewards,” he added.
Results of neutralizations and seizures in 2020:
- 107 individuals neutralized (captured or killed)
- 26 weapons/explosive caches
- 2,500 kilograms of illicit drugs
- Seven drug labs
- $66 million in Colombian pesos
- 218 antipersonnel mines
- Materials used to manufacture explosives (24 bars of Indugel and 63 bars of Pentolite)
- 155 40mm grenades
- 79 hand grenades
- 10 automatic rifles
- 5,700 rounds of ammunition
- Mining equipment used in illegal mining operations
The seized mining equipment used by the ELN was a severe blow, as illegal mining has now become the most important revenue source for the guerrilla group. As the ELN continues to get pushed out of Colombia, its members have moved into Venezuela, where they operate with impunity with the support of the Nicolás Maduro regime and conduct illegal mining operations for gold and other metals.
The DOD Rewards Program, which started in 2009, is designed to pay individuals for information that leads to the capture of illegal weapons or high value targets, as well as any information that is beneficial to military operations or to the activities of the armed forces against international terrorism.
In 2020, the DOD Rewards Program conducted 54 operations and paid more than a dozen rewards totaling $979,000. In two instances, informants provided beneficial information which led to the capture and/or neutralization of two high profile targets: Franco Ruiz, alias Motorola, and Ángel Emiro Vidal Echeverry.
Ruiz, who was captured in the city of Popayán, Cauca department, was identified as the principal arms trafficker and finance chief of the Manuel Vásquez Castaño and the José María Becerro fronts of the ELN in that department, and according to Colombian security forces, was also widely known as the ELN’s drug czar.
Echeverry, who belonged to the Efrén Vargas Gutiérrez Front of the Clan del Golfo, was killed during an operation involving members from the DIRAN and the Colombian Navy and Army.
The reward amount for each of these neutralizations was $50,000.
In years past, the DOD Rewards Program was instrumental in the neutralization of two of the FARC’s highest leaders: Mono Jojoy ($100,000 in 2010) and Alfonso Cano ($200,000 in 2012).