Colombian Military Destroys Four Drug Labs

Craft workshops manufactured cocaine base in Putumayo.
Myriam Ortega/Diálogo | 14 February 2017

Lab buildings are crude and low profile so that criminals can quickly move them when spotted by surveillance. (Photo: Colombian Navy)

Colombian Marines, together with the Army and National Police, seized four drug labs in the Department of Putumayo on January 17th.

Criminals used these crude facilities to process cocaine base. The soldiers carried out two operations, the first of which was led by the 30th Battalion in Puerto Guzmán, where three homemade labs were found, and the second by the 33rd Battalion in San Miguel municipality, where they found the fourth processing center.

“This effort has been carried out through ongoing operations,” said Colonel Ricardo Alberto Suárez Rátiva, commander of the 3rd Marine Brigade, under whose command is the 33rd Battalion, which leads the operation. He attributes their success to “human and signals intelligence, which is how these illegal activities are able to be detected.”

Inside the labs, the Marines found 997 gallons of liquid ingredients and 680 kilograms of dry supplies meant for processing cocaine base. The authorities carried out a controlled destruction of the materials on-site.

In press releases, the Colombian Navy indicated that “in 2016, the Southern Naval Force moved ahead with a standing offensive against this scourge in its jurisdiction, destroying 145 processing centers, over 57 million gallons of liquid ingredients, and 32,000 kilograms of dry supplies.” In 2017, 10 of those labs have already been disabled.

Teamwork

Col. Suárez attributes the success of this and other missions to the Colombian Armed Forces’ teamwork. “The Third Brigade has four tactical units, meaning four battalions. We carry out operations with Army units, according to the sector of the river where they are located. Since I command one of the Marine Corps’ brigades, I have responsibility for the rivers, which depending on the sector can be the Putumayo, the Caquetá, or the Caguán River. These actions are performed by Army units, with the support of the Air Force, in order to ensure resounding success.”

Chemical supplies for coca processing are stored in containers, but the noxious liquids can cause leaks, and they end up polluting the region’s land and waters. (Photo: Colombian Navy)

According to Army General Adolfo Hernández, such joint action starts from the very moment of formation of each military detachment. He commands the 27th Jungle Brigade, which has jurisdiction over the department of Putumayo and Bota Caucana.

“Something that helps to reinforce this culture of joint action within the different service branches is Proyecto Púrpura (Project Purple), which was instituted in the various service academies for the purpose of getting students to interact together early on in their careers. Today we have members from the other service branches in the Army, Naval, and Air Force academies. There they create teamwork opportunity spaces, and later we see those results reflected in the theater of operations.”

The skills brought by each corps are added together, resulting in the optimization of resources, Gen. Hernández added. “Our teamwork has facilitated joint efforts, and through teamwork, we have saved resources. The creation of intelligence bubbles — where all branches bring to the table information about a given target, such as drug trafficking, as well as other potential targets that we may confront — has also been important. In that space, each committee contributes its understanding of how an operation could be carried out and whether it calls for execution by a single service branch, so that resources are more efficiently and forcefully used in meeting the objective.”

Coca in Putumayo

According to the “Monitoring Report on Territories Affected by Illicit Crops” in Colombia, a study by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), 64 percent of coca crops detected as of December 31, 2015, are concentrated in the departments of Nariño, Putumayo, and Norte de Santander. At the time, 20,068 hectares in Putumayo were used for the cultivation of coca.

In the face of such a daunting challenge “the goal is to keep carrying out operations and this involves constant, ongoing searches of the river area under our brigade’s responsibility — the Caquetá, Putumayo, Cagüán, Ortegüaza, Mecaya, and Sencella rivers — where our operations are appropriately conducted,” Col. Suárez added.

“The Colombian Army has excellent relations with the Ecuadorian, Peruvian, and Brazilian armies. We remain in constant contact for carrying out coordinated military operations, and here in Colombia, those efforts aid us in our fight against various transnational crimes taking place on our borders. Here in Putumayo, we have two legal border crossings, where people from Puerto Leguizamo and San Miguel can cross. But along the length of the Putumayo River, the Colombian, Ecuadorian, and Peruvian marines conduct ongoing surveillance, coordinate certain operations when they have information about a crime along the border, and take coordinated action against it,” Gen. Hernández reiterated.

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