The Colombian Navy destroyed a cocaine hydrochloride storage and processing compound near the Gulf of Urabá on May 9, 2018. Authorities discovered the cocaine processing compound, consisting of four small workshops, six storage buildings and a camp built to house 12 people, in a rural area of the municipality of Ungía, Chocó.
“Troops from the 16th Marine Corps River Battalion operating as part of Joint Task Force Titán, with support from the Urabá Coast Guard Station and the National Police, discovered the complex,” Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Wisner Paz Palomeque, commander of the 16th Marine Corps River Battalion, told Diálogo. “We inflicted this blow on the organized armed group [GAO] Gulf Clan using the Navy’s Radiance Strategy and intelligence from the [16th] battalion.”
Radiance Strategy seeks to curtail drug trafficking, the main source of income for GAO such as the Gulf Clan and National Liberation Army. The strategy is executed through joint, integrated, and focused efforts to attack all stages of the cocaine hydrochloride production process. The plan seeks to prevent drug use, trafficking, and the spread of violence drug trafficking precipitates.
Navy experts destroyed the complex in a controlled manner. The facility had the capacity to produce 3.5 tons of cocaine hydrochloride per month. The Navy seized 9,000 liters of liquid raw materials and 1,715 kilograms of dry goods used to process coca.
Authorities also found three distillation devices known as “Martians,” a vacuum packer, and various pieces of equipment used to process the alkaloid. According to the Navy, the complex also contained 1,000 kg of food supplies, bunks, blankets, and other provisions to survive in the area.
“The area was accessed by sea,” Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Sandro Alonso Gallardo Ropero, commander of the 1st Marine Corps Brigade, told Diálogo. “Both the 16th Marine Corps River Battalion and the Urabá Coast Guard Station trained in the skills used to achieve this successful operation.”
“One of the clues that led to the infrastructure’s detection were the tracks on the ground leading to a hamlet known as Tumarado,” Lt. Col. Paz explained. “Upon arriving on site, it became evident that the infrastructure was covered with artificial vegetation in an attempt to shield it from aerial detection.”
The National Police’s Special Criminal Investigation Operations Group, in charge of drug testing and taking the necessary legal steps to destroy the infrastructure, assisted with the operation. “A total of 36 men participated. The operation was carried out in one day, but the intelligence work that led to the discovery of the infrastructure was spread out over more than three months,” Lt. Col. Paz said.
The region and its people
The compound was in a strategic location for narcotraffickers. Its proximity to Panama facilitates the traffic of drugs northward. The swampy terrain also makes it hard for authorities to access the area. “The Urabá or Chocó areas are dominated by rivers, and full of marshes. The Atrato River, the [region’s] largest, empties into the Gulf of Urabá,” Lt. Col. Gallardo said. “One has to navigate natural obstacles, almost all related to deep bodies of water. Air operations are sometimes limited by the region’s heavy rainfall patterns.”
“Criminal activities from all the terrorist groups this country has seen affected the department of Chocó,” Lt. Col. Gallardo said. “The community cannot forget the violent terrorist acts these municipalities witnessed in the past.”