From June 21st to 28th, Colombian Army 4th Brigade troops located and destroyed three mega-labs in three municipalities of eastern Antioquia: El Carmen de Viboral, La Unión, and Concepción. The clandestine facilities were devoted to the production of crystallized cocaine hydrochloride, which transforms coca paste into pure cocaine ready for distribution.
“The destruction of these laboratories represents a resounding blow to the Gulf Clan’s financial structure,” Brigadier General Jorge Horacio Romero Pinzón, the commander of the Colombian Army 4th Brigade, told Diálogo. “That’s why destroying their crystallization laboratories, where they produce cocaine that’s ready for the market, means that their production chain has been fractured, their resources to pay for their criminal structure have been halted, and they have, among other things, lost their investment, the coca crop, their harvest, the coca paste production, and the supplies for processing.”
After careful intelligence and management work in the territory, the 4th Brigade’s 4th Mechanized Cavalry Group, Juan del Corral, dealt its heavy blows. The discovery and destruction of the three laboratories were done within the framework of Agamenón II, a Ministry of Defense military and police operation. This operation brings all of the state’s forces and capacities together for the mission of dismantling and eliminating the criminal structure of the Gulf Clan — the largest drug trafficking organization in Colombia — once and for all.
Heavy blow to criminals’ finances
According to information provided by the 4th Brigade, two laboratories were veritable drug factories. Between the three, they had the capacity to produce two and a half tons of narcotics per month. Even though the brigade members’ effectiveness against drug trafficking groups is increasingly improving, the size of the laboratories and the number of narcotics produced in the area are causing great concern throughout the country and in the international community.
“Gulf Clan criminals are drug traffickers who take advantage of rural people’s needs, make use of transit corridors used earlier by other groups, and exploit various situations, such as the isolation and the distance from urban centers. In the case of eastern Antioquia, we must remember that it is a region where FARC committed crimes and engaged in terrorism,” Brig. Gen. Romero stated. “It’s a territory that can have roads that connect with strategic corridors for getting the illegal product out.”
The operation was the result of five months of military searches and intelligence work in extremely hard-to-reach areas. In El Carmen de Viboral, search-and-patrol duties in a jungle sector of the municipality yielded the location of the laboratory.
“Upon arrival, we found a well-equipped infrastructure made up of nine structures that were rustic in appearance but with an interior housing machinery that enabled the criminals to work efficiently, like a true industrial manufacturing plant,” Colombian Army Lieutenant Colonel Miguel Ángel Blanco, the commander of the 4th Mechanized Cavalry Group, told Diálogo. “They had separate zones for different processes, each one in a separate structure.”
Found at the site were 10 kilograms of cocaine hydrochloride that had already undergone the production process, and were ready to go to market. Another 70 kilograms of coca paste, 40 gallons of liquid coca paste, 4,000 liters of solvents, and 200 kilograms of lye were also found.
Another source of illegal enrichment was found
“Hours later, the troops discovered 180 kilograms of sodium permanganate, an ingredient needed to process coca paste and turn it into cocaine hydrochloride, which is hard to pull off,” Lt. Col. Blanco explained. “We have information that its commercialization by outlaws has become another source of enrichment for criminal groups.”
Another raided laboratory was located in the municipality of La Unión. That structure had five rustic wooden and plastic buildings that separated the production process, and resulted in the seizure of 925 kilograms of solid consumables and 175 gallons of liquid consumables as well as elements, materials, tools, and equipment. A third laboratory was found in the municipality of Concepción, where 675 kilograms of sodium bisulfate, 74 kilograms of coca paste packaged for sale, and plenty of supplies were seized.
In the dismantling of the three laboratories, citizen collaboration was definitive. Thanks to them, the authorities received information that helped locate the processing centers. The Colombian Army has an “Ally Network,” and a secure information hotline - 146. Both guarantee the community complete confidentiality and protection.
For Brig. Gen. Romero, having the trust of the community that they are supporting through productive projects and ongoing development aid days is very important. “We know they don’t want these illegal economies in their territories,” he said. “We expect to continue making an impact on the Gulf Clan’s financial structure, which uses dirty money to buy weapons, forces rural people to plant coca, buys loyalty, and terrorizes communities,” he concluded.