Colombian Military Forces Seize 8 Tons of Cocaine

Some of the drugs were concealed in banana shipments, ready for sale in the United States and Europe.
Yolima Dussán/Diálogo | 3 April 2018

Transnational Threats

On March 9, 2018, Colombian authorities seized more than five tons of cocaine hydrochloride in the Gulf of Urabá, Colombia, near the border with Panama. Narcotraffickers attempted to conceal the drug packages among bananas. (Photo: Colombian Ministry of Defense)

From March 5–9, 2018, the Colombian Military Forces struck a blow to narcotrafficking gangs, seizing a total of 8.1 tons of cocaine. Through combined interagency operations, authorities intercepted 5.3 tons of drugs in the Gulf of Urabá, 1.6 tons in the port city of Santa Marta, and another 1.2 tons on the border with Ecuador.

The largest shipment was found on March 9th, in the Gulf of Urabá. The northwestern Colombian region is considered the Gulf Clan’s center of operations. Large plantations are concentrated in the area close to the border with Panama. More than 34,000 hectares are planted with bananas, the main driver of the economy in the region. Illegal armed groups use the area’s geographical location, close to the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, to move cocaine shipments out of the country.

“The [5.3 tons of] drugs were concealed among boxes of bananas in containers that were going to be shipped to Europe. The vessel was destined for Belgium, and from there, the narcotics would have been distributed across the continent,” Colombian Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas, said in a press briefing. “The cocaine’s street value could have been as high as $436 million. We’re certain we dealt a heavy blow to the Gulf Clan’s finances.”

International offensive

The interception of drugs was the largest since the 73rd Counter-Narcotrafficking Task Force Neptune became active in the Caribbean region in February 2015. “This outcome is the result of a coordinated interagency effort,” Admiral Ernesto Durán González, commander of the Colombian National Navy, said during a press briefing. “But it was also the result of working with the community, whose information enabled us to initiate a months-long naval intelligence operation, thanks to which we tracked down when the gang first started collecting the drugs.”

The pressure of the authorities slowed down small-scale smuggling, forcing narcotrafficking gangs to stockpile cocaine in larger amounts and conceal it in shipping containers when the time comes to export. But the process leaves a trace for intelligence operations.

 

By the third week of March 2018,, the Colombian National Navy managed to seize 26.6 tons of cocaine about to be sent to countries in North America and Europe. “During all these operations, we work with international agencies. The fight against narcotrafficking is part of a larger international offensive. We share the same threat with many countries, but we also share the tools needed to fight it,” Adm. Durán explained. “We do operations with other forces and agencies from Mexico, the United States, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, France, Holland, Spain, and the United Kingdom. Every day, gangs invest in more technology to circumvent controls, but every time they do, we get more cooperation from the international community to face them.”

 

Seizure on the border with Ecuador

On March 5th, in the far south of the country, Colombian and Ecuadorean military forces found a 1.2-ton cocaine shipment during a combined maritime operation in the Ancón de Sardinas Bay border area. In the operation led by Joint Task Force Hercules, the Colombian National Navy and the Northern Area Joint Command of the Ecuadorean Armed Forces intercepted a boat with three outboard engines, but no name or registration.

According to authorities, 1,212 packages of cocaine were found, valued at $38 million on the international market. Authorities also seized plastic containers with 700 gallons of fuel aboard the boat and arrested four people during the operation. They are now being held by Special Public Prosecutor No. 20 in Tumaco, in the western Colombian department of Nariño.

According to a statement from the Colombian National Police, on March 6th, in that same part of the Caribbean, elements attached to the Directorate for Counternarcotics seized 1.6 tons of cocaine at the port of Santa Marta, Colombia, in a fruit shipment due to be sent to Antwerp, Belgium. The cocaine was placed inside shipping containers before entry at the port terminal, as the seals on the containers were intact and registration forms for the goods were in order.

 

Colombian Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas, accompanied by officials from the Colombian Military Forces, gave a briefing on the cocaine seizures made March 5–9, 2018. (Photo: Colombian Ministry of Defense)

“Police personnel specialized in target selection and analysis singled out one container that was registered as containing a shipment of bananas and opened it for a physical inspection. Instead, they found 1,627 packets containing the white substance,” the Police reported.

 

The shipment was worth close to $89 million. The bust was in addition to the 10.4 tons of cocaine the Colombian National Police seized so far in the Caribbean region in 2018. By the end of March, the Colombian Public Force had seized close to 60 tons of cocaine ready to be shipped out of the country.

From March 5–9, 2018, the Colombian Military Forces struck a blow to narcotrafficking gangs, seizing a total of 8.1 tons of cocaine. Through combined interagency operations, authorities intercepted 5.3 tons of drugs in the Gulf of Urabá, 1.6 tons in the port city of Santa Marta, and another 1.2 tons on the border with Ecuador.

The largest shipment was found on March 9th, in the Gulf of Urabá. The northwestern Colombian region is considered the Gulf Clan’s center of operations. Large plantations are concentrated in the area close to the border with Panama. More than 34,000 hectares are planted with bananas, the main driver of the economy in the region. Illegal armed groups use the area’s geographical location, close to the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, to move cocaine shipments out of the country.

“The [5.3 tons of] drugs were concealed among boxes of bananas in containers that were going to be shipped to Europe. The vessel was destined for Belgium, and from there, the narcotics would have been distributed across the continent,” Colombian Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas, said in a press briefing. “The cocaine’s street value could have been as high as $436 million. We’re certain we dealt a heavy blow to the Gulf Clan’s finances.”

International offensive

The interception of drugs was the largest since the 73rd Counter-Narcotrafficking Task Force Neptune became active in the Caribbean region in February 2015. “This outcome is the result of a coordinated interagency effort,” Admiral Ernesto Durán González, commander of the Colombian National Navy, said during a press briefing. “But it was also the result of working with the community, whose information enabled us to initiate a months-long naval intelligence operation, thanks to which we tracked down when the gang first started collecting the drugs.”

The pressure of the authorities slowed down small-scale smuggling, forcing narcotrafficking gangs to stockpile cocaine in larger amounts and conceal it in shipping containers when the time comes to export. But the process leaves a trace for intelligence operations.

By the third week of March 2018,, the Colombian National Navy managed to seize 26.6 tons of cocaine about to be sent to countries in North America and Europe. “During all these operations, we work with international agencies. The fight against narcotrafficking is part of a larger international offensive. We share the same threat with many countries, but we also share the tools needed to fight it,” Adm. Durán explained. “We do operations with other forces and agencies from Mexico, the United States, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, France, Holland, Spain, and the United Kingdom. Every day, gangs invest in more technology to circumvent controls, but every time they do, we get more cooperation from the international community to face them.”

Seizure on the border with Ecuador

On March 5th, in the far south of the country, Colombian and Ecuadorean military forces found a 1.2-ton cocaine shipment during a combined maritime operation in the Ancón de Sardinas Bay border area. In the operation led by Joint Task Force Hercules, the Colombian National Navy and the Northern Area Joint Command of the Ecuadorean Armed Forces intercepted a boat with three outboard engines, but no name or registration.

According to authorities, 1,212 packages of cocaine were found, valued at $38 million on the international market. Authorities also seized plastic containers with 700 gallons of fuel aboard the boat and arrested four people during the operation. They are now being held by Special Public Prosecutor No. 20 in Tumaco, in the western Colombian department of Nariño.

According to a statement from the Colombian National Police, on March 6th, in that same part of the Caribbean, elements attached to the Directorate for Counternarcotics seized 1.6 tons of cocaine at the port of Santa Marta, Colombia, in a fruit shipment due to be sent to Antwerp, Belgium. The cocaine was placed inside shipping containers before entry at the port terminal, as the seals on the containers were intact and registration forms for the goods were in order.

“Police personnel specialized in target selection and analysis singled out one container that was registered as containing a shipment of bananas and opened it for a physical inspection. Instead, they found 1,627 packets containing the white substance,” the Police reported.

The shipment was worth close to $89 million. The bust was in addition to the 10.4 tons of cocaine the Colombian National Police seized so far in the Caribbean region in 2018. By the end of March, the Colombian Public Force had seized close to 60 tons of cocaine ready to be shipped out of the country.

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