In late September, the Colombian Navy and the Technical Investigation Corps (CTI, in Spanish) of the Colombian Attorney General's Office dealt a combined strategic blow to transnational criminal organizations. The operation resulted in the capture of an individual with superior technical skills in Valle del Cauca department. Colombian national Hubert Palacios Calcedo, alias Hubert or Hoover, is accused of building semi-submersibles in southeastern Colombia, the Colombian Navy said in a press release.
The 60-year-old is also wanted in the United States with a view to extradition for drug trafficking, manufacturing, and possession. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas issued an arrest warrant, April 18, 2018.
“The capture of this individual is very important,” said Colombian Marine Corps Colonel Oswaldo Solano, commander of the Second Marine Brigade. “It seems he built semi-submersible vessels and low-profile speedboats to transport narcotics from the Colombian Pacific coast to Central America.”
An efficient capture
Months of investigation with the help of U.S. intelligence indicated that alias Hubert was building semi-submersibles and low-profile speedboats in Nariño department and in neighboring Ecuador. Authorities kept a close eye on him and planned an operation for his arrest when he was in Cali, Valle del Cauca department.
“Based on information shared with the Pacific regional intelligence team, I assigned a special group,” Colombian Marine Corps Major Danny García Cardona, commander of the Unified Action Group for Personal Liberty (GAULA, in Spanish) Buenaventura, told Diálogo. “He was captured in Cali’s Panamericano neighborhood. When [GAULA units] got there, they communicated with CTI and Navy intelligence personnel, who knew his location and waited to detain him.”
According to Maj. García, GAULA Buenaventura troops, consisting of military and police units deployed in Cali, carried out the operation successfully at 8:30 a.m. Authorities arrested alias Hubert, who surrendered without resistance in a public place.
“He was on his own, without any bodyguards, as if nothing had happened,” said Maj. García. “He seemed really carefree.”
After his capture, alias Hubert was brought to Cali authorities to be prosecuted and extradited. “The extradition program [is] very thorough, with an average of 90-100 extraditions every year,” said a press release from the U.S. Embassy in Colombia.
Tough blow to narcotrafficking
Transnational criminal organizations count on experts to build vessels to transport drugs by sea to Central America and the United States. Narcotraffickers continue to favor maritime routes to transport drugs. The hard-to-reach jungle area of the Colombian Pacific, with a 1,500-kilometer coast, also serves as a safe haven for narcotraffickers.
Colombian authorities, however, have dealt harsh blows to narcotrafficking in the region. According to the Colombian Navy’s Pacific Naval Force, so far in 2018, authorities have seized 19 semi-submersibles and modified speedboats in the Colombian Pacific alone.
Building a semi-submersible takes time, resources, maritime experience, and buoyancy knowledge, among others. Criminals invest up to $1.5 million and an average of five to 12 months to build a semi-submersible, therefore narcotraffickers, the Navy said, highly value their experts.
“This is a strategic blow, because not just anyone has the ability to build these speedboats,” Maj. García concluded. “It takes an expert to know the right dimensions for the speedboat, how it can float, and how much fuel and cocaine it can carry. It should be someone with enough experience and knowledge. It can’t be just anyone, but someone highly knowledgeable about all this. It’s a priority for the Navy to focus on countering this [narcotrafficking] crime.”