The Colombian Army destroyed two cocaine hydrochloride processing labs in two interagency operations. The labs were found in the towns of Los Brazos and Mayasquer, both in the municipality of Barbacoas, Nariño department, in the Colombian South Pacific.
“Dissident armed groups of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia [FARC, in Spanish] are present in the area,” Colombian Army Brigadier General Raúl Hernando Flórez Cuervo, commander of the Special Anti-drug Brigade (BRCNA, in Spanish), told Diálogo. “The old Daniel Aldana mobile column and the Oliver Sinisterra group, led by a criminal known as Guacho, converge in the area.”
Walter Artízala, alias Guacho, who owns the labs, operates in the jungle border area between Ecuador and Colombia. Alias Guacho is responsible for multiple murders with explosives, kidnapping, and extortion in the region.
Drugs in a depository
Authorities seized the first lab in the town of Los Brazos, June 30th. BRCNA and the Colombian National Police led the operation, part of the Atlas campaign, with the support of the Colombian Army’s Strategic Military Intelligence Battalion, in addition to intelligence and international cooperation agencies, such as the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the Army said.
“The operation was planned with information provided by intelligence. About 30 men and two BRCNA special operations detachments, accompanied by judicial authorities, took part in the operation,” Brig. Gen Flórez said. “They disembarked about one kilometer from thetarget and carried out an inspection with security measures in place. The threat of armed groups [antipersonnel mines] from the old FARC looms in the area.”
“We used Army Aviation and the National Police; they went in with two Black Hawks [helicopters] and a fighter [aircraft] as escorts for the mission. The units always set up to rappel from helicopters and reach hard-to-reach areas,” Colombian Army Lieutenant Colonel Fabio Alberto Ojeda López, commander of the Fourth CounternarcoticsBattalion, told Diálogo. “Upon arriving in the field, they found the lab and started to search [for the storage room].”
Hours later, equipped with the proper gear and the help of dogs, the team found the storage area about 900 meters from the lab. “We started digging, and we found more than one ton of cocaine already labeled, below a metal sheet,” Lt. Col. Ojeda said.
The underground repository had about 1,200 kilograms of cocaine hydrochloride, 375 kg of coca leaves, and 149, 200-liter plastic containers, among other content. According to the Army, the cocaine, estimated at $1.9 million, was ready to ship to Mexico and the United States.
Narcotraffickers had already removed part of the drug from the warehouse, as they no longer keep supplies and output in a single location. Criminals use the strategy to reduce the impact on their finances if authorities strike.
“If they are going to produce a ton of cocaine one day, they only bring supplies to produce that ton,” Lt. Col. Ojeda said. “They have a timeline; it takes about three to four days to make this ton, but at the end of the work day, they [store] the cocaine hydrochloride produced elsewhere.”
The Army’s Air Assault Aviation unit carried out the Mayasquer operation July 8th. “The Atlas military and police campaign, as part of the Victoria Plus plan, seeks to counter the various instability factors; narcotrafficking is a major one,” Brig. Gen. Flórez said.
Troops reached and inserted themselves into the area, where they found the lab. The facility was divided into five structures equipped with distillers, microwave ovens, hydraulic presses, 4,000 liters of fuel, and multiple items used for the production of cocaine hydrochloride. The Army estimated that the operation caused a $180,000 loss to the criminals.
Illegal labs need access to water to carry out the drug production process, which often operates around the clock. Criminals have resorted to 24/7 operations to increase productivity.
“They build [the laboratories] in jungle areas with plenty of water and slopes, which makes it hard for troops to get in,” Lt. Col. Ojeda said.