In early October, the Colombian Navy dealt a major blow to narcotrafficking and dismantled a criminal ring that smuggled drugs to Central American and the Caribbean by sea for the Clan del Golfo. The Navy captured 14 gang members in different parts of the country in simultaneous joint and combined operations with the Colombian Office of the Attorney General U.S agencies.
A year of intelligence work allowed the Navy to identify the criminal group and the route it used to smuggle drugs from the Gulf of Morrosquillo, on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. The network, according to the Navy, moved up to a ton of cocaine on each journey via speedboats.
“[The operation] was very well planned,” Colombian Navy Captain Carlos Rodríguez Espinoza, commander of the Caribbean Coast Guard, told Diálogo. “It's important to acknowledge the disciplined and rigorous work of the Colombian Office of the Attorney General and the Navy to conduct logistics planning and arrests.”
Clan del Golfo’s partner
Several cocaine seizures carried out in territorial and international waters in 2017 led the Colombian Navy to identify the criminals and their maritime route. “This case came together based on the Navy’s seizures and the profiling on boats, speedboats, and substances,” Capt. Rodríguez said.
According to the investigations, the group charged monthly sums to the Clan del Golfo and other narcotrafficking organizations to ship the drugs. The criminal ring, which operated with the Clan del Golfo for three years, had become one of its main partners in Córdoba and Sucre departments in the Caribbean coast of Colombia.
The intelligence and follow-up work that enabled the dismantlement of the ring was possible thanks to ongoing U.S. support, Capt. Rodríguez said. “We always had the support of U.S. Southern Command, the 4th Fleet [U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command] and JIATF South [Joint Interagency Task Force South], which is the organization that brings us direct support for operations and follow-up on narcotrafficking issues.”
Simultaneous joint operations
More than 100 Navy units, in addition to agents from the Office of the Attorney General’s Technical Investigation Corps (CTI, in Spanish) carried out the arrest in joint operations. Authorities detained a total of 14 people, including gang leaders, ship operators, and mechanics in several towns in Antioquia, Santander, Córdoba, and Bolívar departments.
“What matters here is the simultaneity of the operation in several cities and secluded areas,” Colombian Navy Vice Admiral Gabriel Pérez Garcés, commander of the Caribbean Naval Force, told Diálogo. “Different units executed arrest procedures at the same time.”
Authorities seized $40,000 in cash, as well as satellite equipment and navigation charts during the operations. According to the Navy, the crew members were experienced operators who not only traveled with cutting-edge satellite location systems, but also obtained information and details about naval units’ operations, so as to identify their location and evade them.
“Navigation charts are official documents for public use; they are unclassified,” Vice Adm. Pérez said. “What may be significant here is that they might have recorded information on these charts, such as routes, points, times, in short, that information can be helpful for intelligence to continue the fight. It gives us the chance to open and expand cases involving narcotrafficking."
The Colombian Office of the Attorney General, through the Special Office against Drug Trafficking, charged 14 detainees with trafficking, manufacture, and possession of drugs, as well as conspiracy to commit crimes. A woman was placed under house arrest, while the rest of the group was sent to prison.
“As a main drug producer, Colombia understands its responsibility in this scourge against humanity,” Capt. Rodríguez concluded, emphasizing the importance of regional cooperation to counter narcotrafficking. “However, we are not the only country responsible for that. It should be addressed [with international cooperation], because it’s the only way to impact the illegal narcotrafficking business strategically and significantly.”