The Colombian Navy continues its relentless fight against transnational criminal groups that threaten regional security. One of its latest breakthroughs occurred in late April, when units captured 11 foreign nationals involved in narcotrafficking in Central America.
Elements of the 42nd Marine Riverine Battalion led an operation on April 23, in López de Micay municipality, Cauca department, thanks to intelligence from the Navy. In a house, Naval units captured six Costa Ricans, four Nicaraguans, and a Mexican who the Navy said coordinated logistics to smuggle U.S.-bound drugs from Nicaragua and Costa Rica.
"Navy intelligence enabled us to find a house located in a village called Boca Grande, near López de Micay," Colombian Navy Vice Admiral Antonio Martínez Olmos, commander of the Pacific Naval Force (FNP, in Spanish), told Diálogo. "We sent an alert to FNP units, who went to the area and captured the alleged criminals, by surprise of course."
Service members found 1 kilogram of marijuana in the house. The individuals also carried several weapons, such as 5.56 caliber MP5 rifles, a .45 caliber Glock pistol, and shells, as well as communication equipment, the Navy reported. The captures allowed authorities to start legal proceedings, "with important information revealing the activities of this narcotrafficking organization operating in this part of the Colombian Pacific," Vice Adm. Martínez said.
Planning the operation
In January, the Navy's intelligence identified foreigners in the Saija River area, in López de Micay, which initiated search activities.
“Intelligence revealed that the people captured might have already established contact with people who were eventually involved in narcotrafficking," Colombian Navy Colonel Alexander Ramírez, commander of the 2nd Marine Corps Brigade, told Diálogo. "They would meet to coordinate with narcotrafficking organizations that operate in that area, especially in Timbiquí [Cauca].”
With this information, naval units began conducting a series of riverine surveillance operations in the many rivers and streams used to smuggle drugs and evade authorities' control.
"We need many troops to be really able to control them. There are hundreds, nearly thousands of estuaries that converge in this Pacific coastline," Col. Ramírez said. "In addition to geographic conditions, there are networks that support these structures, which obviously […] make our job difficult."
"What's difficult is to find these people's location. Once we obtained more precise intelligence, we were able to plan the operation, put security rings in place, and insert troops, which found weapons in Boca Grande," Col. Ramírez added.
According to the Office of the Attorney General, the criminals were sent to Güapi, Cauca, where authorities charged them with manufacturing, trafficking, and illegal possession of weapons meant for use by the Colombian Armed Forces.
Some of the detainees are wanted in their countries of origin for narcotrafficking and illegal firearms possession, as well as theft. According to the Navy, the Mexican national from Sinaloa had been sentenced in Baja California Sur in the 1990s, after being detained with more than 1,347 kg of marijuana.
"The connection between these people and this criminal activity within transnational crime is clear, with the understanding that this is an investigation, and it clearly shows that the Colombian Navy and the Public Forces’ fight against narcotrafficking doesn't stop," Vice Adm. Martínez said. "We have very clear instructions from the government that we should fight with all our resources, our means, and our personnel's combative spirit against the scourge of narcotrafficking, which has harmed our country so badly."