The Colombian National Army located and simultaneously dismantled three cocaine paste labs belonging to the organized armed groups (GAO, in Spanish) of Los Pelusos, the Gulf Clan, and Los Puntilleros. The operations, which took place in three departments on April 9, 2018, were carried out within the framework of Plan Victoria, following the strategy of the Persistent Threat System (SAP, in Spanish), as the Colombian government calls the post-accord threats.
Units from the 9th Land Combat Battalion destroyed a cocaine paste processing lab belonging to Los Pelusos GAO in the municipality of Sardinata, department of Norte de Santander. Authorities found 800 liters of cocaine paste being processed, along with 420 liters of gasoline. Los Pelusos is a drug trafficking GAO associated with the guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (ELN, in Spanish).
The 17th Brigade dismantled a second structure in the municipality of Dabeiba, department of Antioquia. Troops arrived at a lab belonging to the Gulf Clan, and seized 540 liters of cocaine paste being processed.
“Narcotrafficking fuels the conflict that the country is experiencing,” Army Brigadier General Juan Carlos Ramírez Trujillo, commander of the 4th Brigade, told Diálogo. “If there’s coca, there’s violence; if there’s violence, there’s conflict. If we want to have a department, areas, and a country without violence and without conflict, we have to eradicate coca.”
The third lab was located in the municipality of Cumaribo, department of Vichada, where troops from the 8th Division found a structure in full production used by Los Puntilleros. Inside, they found 350 kilograms of coca leaves and 700 liters of cocaine paste being processed.
“This is a joint and interagency job executed by the country’s forces and different government institutions,” Colonel Miguel Ángel Vásquez Acevedo, commander of the Colombian Army’s 28th Brigade, told Diálogo. “The operations we carried out against Los Puntilleros aimed at handing them over to the courts.”
Authorities identified Los Puntilleros in 1980. They are concentrated in the region of Orinoquía, in the east of the country. The GAO operates through two front groups, the Bloque Meta and the Bloque Libertadores del Vichada, comprising over 70 men including members of paramilitary groups known as self-defense groups.
Antioquia free of coca crops
The department of Antioquia has between 2,500 and 3,000 hectares of coca planted. “We have eradicated 200 hectares to date in 2018 [May], and we are continuing with forced eradication in a broad area. My goal is to eradicate 700 hectares of coca in Ituango, Briceño, Valdivia, and part of Bajo Cauca, Caucasia, and Cáceres,” Brig. Gen. Ramírez Trujillo said. “In 2018, we made 358 arrests in this area where other organized armed groups, such as FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] remnants, operate; from the ELN, we made seven more. With the most recent interventions, we seized 12 cocaine paste labs in this area.”
By the end of April 2018, the Army had neutralized 48 members of the Gulf Clan in the municipality of Ituango, department of Antioquia. The most important arrest was the narcotrafficker alias Móvil 9, who was known to be responsible for coordinating all the actions of this GAO in the municipality.
The department of Antioquia is conducting a campaign known as “Antioquia free of coca crops,” led by the local government, with the support of public forces. This is a full-frontal offensive. The narcotrafficking chain begins with illicit crops. The substance arrives transformed through microtrafficking in various places of Medellín, the department capital, and generates violence, homicides, and lack of security in urban areas.
“Operations against narcotrafficking have increased throughout the country. This is a transnational crime that transforms very quickly, and it is necessary to attack it constantly,” Col. Vásquez said. “We are constantly reorganizing our strategies. We no longer eradicate spraying glyphosate from airplanes; we now do manual eradication, which is more difficult. The crop substitution programs have begun, but they take time.”
Persistent Threat System
The current strategy to combat this scourge is based on a complete vision of the drug trafficking supply chain movements. SAP refers to a comprehensive analysis of the problem and the best way to attack it.
Up to 2017, the Colombian Military Forces looked at GAOs only in terms of their fighting capacity; now, they see them as a system composed of different subsystems, one being armed and the other being command and control, where leaders are placed in top, second-tier, and third-tier levels. There is a third subsystem of logistical infrastructure focused on sustaining the group through workshops where they make uniforms, boots, and other logistics items for administration, arms, and communications. The fourth subsystem identified is the financial system of illicit income derived from extortion and other crimes. Finally, the infrastructure subsystem, including the areas of operation, storage, and campsites, completes the organization.
“When we attack the Persistent Threat System, we attack the entire chain. A group cannot subsist without having all its components functioning,” Brig. Gen. Ramírez told Diálogo. Specialized groups inside the Army focus on targeted operations against each subsystem.
“When we talk about persistent threats, we mean threats to national security that are persistent because they don’t go away,” Brig. Gen. Ramírez Trujillo concluded. With this new vision, the Colombian National Army informs citizens daily about its coordinated operations to strike the narcotrafficking chain. The offensive has no end date, but the goal is to eradicate coca plantations from Colombia.