New Strikes against Narcotrafficking in Colombia’s Pacific Region

The Colombian Navy seized more than 1.5 tons of cocaine in Colombia’s Pacific region.
Marian Romero/Diálogo | 17 November 2017

Capacity Building

In 2017, the Colombian Navy’s Pacific Naval Force seized more than 81 tons of cocaine hydrochloride. (Photo: Colombian Navy)

The Colombian Navy (ARC, per its Spanish acronym) intercepted 1,675 kilograms of cocaine in the waters of the department of Nariño, in the southwest of Colombia. The seizure was the result of two operations. According to ARC, the drugs have a value of about $55 million on the international market.

The Technical Investigation Corps of the National Police of Colombia does forensic processing on land, including the Standardized Preliminary Initial Test to determine whether the merchandise is cocaine. (Photo: Colombian Navy)

On the night of October 16th, while carrying out patrol duties, the ARC’s Pacific Naval Force intercepted a type of fast boat in the vicinity of the municipality of Mosquera, in the department of Nariño. Upon detecting patrol ships, the three crew members attempted to flee but were detained. Aboard the boat, which according to the authorities was headed for Central America, patrol officers seized 979 kilograms of cocaine in 24 packets valued at more than $32 million.

“The Colombian Navy focuses its efforts on maritime interdiction, on detecting vessels already prepared to ship drugs abroad,” ARC Vice Admiral Luis Hernán Espejo, commander of the Pacific Naval Force, told Diálogo. “That way, when we strike against these criminals, it’s a heavier hit because it directly impacts their finances.”

During another incident in mid-September 2017, units of the Pacific Naval Force’s Surface Fleet and Coast Guard found 696 kilograms of cocaine strewn in the water. The patrol ships found 25 packets, sealed and attached together, which drug traffickers had thrown into the sea to evade ARC control.

“We often encounter situations like that on both of the nation’s coasts. It’s not just that drugs are hidden in some conveyance: the use of technology is crucial to avoid direct deliveries between individuals. They simply share information by satellite about the exact location of the merchandise to do their deliveries on the high seas,” Vice Adm. Espejo said. “With that said, it’s worth finding them because seizing that merchandise deducted at least $23 million from the criminals’ coffers.”

Controlling the seas

Maritime channels continue to be the drug traffickers’ preferred method to transport drugs. Colombia’s coastline on the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea is more than 3,000 kilometers. The Colombian Pacific is a complex zone with nearly 1,500 kilometers of coast that extends over four departments (Chocó, Valle del Cauca, Cauca, and Nariño). It’s a hard-to-reach jungle region that criminals exploit to evade authorities. They move along the various rivers and streams that typify the area and represent the main, and in many cases the only, transit routes.

In the region—one of the most underdeveloped in Colombia—fishing is among the main forms of subsistence for the local population. Hundreds of fishing boats head out to sea daily on the Pacific coast.

The Pacific Naval Force conducts naval operations to maintain control and security in the sea, river, and land areas of the Pacific coast. Its units deploy patrols to detect and intercept illegal activities, focusing on narcotrafficking.

“Narcotraffickers have […] boats, called ‘mosca’ [Spanish for alert or vigilant], with satellite devices to identify the Coast Guard’s position. Navy ships are sometimes pursued by such boats without cargo on board, so as not to lose sight of their concealed position,” Vice Adm. Espejo said. “When the vessel senses that we’re approaching for interception, the immediate reaction is to release the cargo at sea. That way, they force us to choose between stopping the boat or recovering the drugs. We usually capture the boat crew and later recover the merchandise in order to have the evidence.”

These procedures must be carried out swiftly. If not, the authorities risk losing part of the merchandise and for fishermen to find the packages—something known in the region as white fishing.

The fight against narcotrafficking

Narcotrafficking and organized crime are a threat to Colombia. According to the U.S. Department of State’s 2017 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report Colombia is the world’s leading cocaine producer, despite the government’s efforts and gains. For its part, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency indicated in its 2017 National Drug Threat Assessment report that nearly 92 percent of the cocaine seized in the United States in 2016 originated from Colombia.

“The priority of the Ministry of Defense [of Colombia] is to combat narcotrafficking in all parts of its system and infrastructure in land, sea, river, and air spaces. That’s why there are different programs, ranging from the comprehensive eradication of illegal crops to bolstering investigation and prosecution to international cooperation,” said Major General José Ángel Mendoza, director of the Antinarcotics Directorate of the National Police of Colombia. “Nonetheless, our efforts are focused on the parts that come after the crops, as they represent the main impact on narcotrafficking structures.”

In 2017, the National Police seized 285 tons of cocaine, equal to 22 tons more than in 2016. Of those, the Pacific Naval Force intercepted more than 81 tons.

Despite the challenges, ARC continues the fight narcotrafficking. “Criminal networks maintain a high degree of adaptability, but coordination among Colombia’s various law enforcement agencies and international authorities has allowed for increasingly positive results,” Gen. Mendoza concluded.

The Colombian Navy (ARC, per its Spanish acronym) intercepted 1,675 kilograms of cocaine in the waters of the department of Nariño, in the southwest of Colombia. The seizure was the result of two operations. According to ARC, the drugs have a value of about $55 million on the international market.

Once the forensic processing is completed, the National Police of Colombia—which seized 285 tons or cocaine in 2017—destroys the merchandise. (Photo: Colombian Navy)

On the night of October 16th, while carrying out patrol duties, the ARC’s Pacific Naval Force intercepted a type of fast boat in the vicinity of the municipality of Mosquera, in the department of Nariño. Upon detecting patrol ships, the three crew members attempted to flee but were detained. Aboard the boat, which according to the authorities was headed for Central America, patrol officers seized 979 kilograms of cocaine in 24 packets valued at more than $32 million.

“The Colombian Navy focuses its efforts on maritime interdiction, on detecting vessels already prepared to ship drugs abroad,” ARC Vice Admiral Luis Hernán Espejo, commander of the Pacific Naval Force, told Diálogo. “That way, when we strike against these criminals, it’s a heavier hit because it directly impacts their finances.”

During another incident in mid-September 2017, units of the Pacific Naval Force’s Surface Fleet and Coast Guard found 696 kilograms of cocaine strewn in the water. The patrol ships found 25 packets, sealed and attached together, which drug traffickers had thrown into the sea to evade ARC control.

“We often encounter situations like that on both of the nation’s coasts. It’s not just that drugs are hidden in some conveyance: the use of technology is crucial to avoid direct deliveries between individuals. They simply share information by satellite about the exact location of the merchandise to do their deliveries on the high seas,” Vice Adm. Espejo said. “With that said, it’s worth finding them because seizing that merchandise deducted at least $23 million from the criminals’ coffers.”

Controlling the seas

Maritime channels continue to be the drug traffickers’ preferred method to transport drugs. Colombia’s coastline on the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea is more than 3,000 kilometers. The Colombian Pacific is a complex zone with nearly 1,500 kilometers of coast that extends over four departments (Chocó, Valle del Cauca, Cauca, and Nariño). It’s a hard-to-reach jungle region that criminals exploit to evade authorities. They move along the various rivers and streams that typify the area and represent the main, and in many cases the only, transit routes.

In the region—one of the most underdeveloped in Colombia—fishing is among the main forms of subsistence for the local population. Hundreds of fishing boats head out to sea daily on the Pacific coast.

The Pacific Naval Force conducts naval operations to maintain control and security in the sea, river, and land areas of the Pacific coast. Its units deploy patrols to detect and intercept illegal activities, focusing on narcotrafficking.

“Narcotraffickers have […] boats, called ‘mosca’ [Spanish for alert or vigilant], with satellite devices to identify the Coast Guard’s position. Navy ships are sometimes pursued by such boats without cargo on board, so as not to lose sight of their concealed position,” Vice Adm. Espejo said. “When the vessel senses that we’re approaching for interception, the immediate reaction is to release the cargo at sea. That way, they force us to choose between stopping the boat or recovering the drugs. We usually capture the boat crew and later recover the merchandise in order to have the evidence.”

These procedures must be carried out swiftly. If not, the authorities risk losing part of the merchandise and for fishermen to find the packages—something known in the region as white fishing.

The fight against narcotrafficking

Narcotrafficking and organized crime are a threat to Colombia. According to the U.S. Department of State’s 2017 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, Colombia is the world’s leading cocaine producer, despite the government’s efforts and gains. For its part, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency indicated in its 2017 National Drug Threat Assessment report that nearly 92 percent of the cocaine seized in the United States in 2016 originated from Colombia.

“The priority of the Ministry of Defense [of Colombia] is to combat narcotrafficking in all parts of its system and infrastructure in land, sea, river, and air spaces. That’s why there are different programs, ranging from the comprehensive eradication of illegal crops to bolstering investigation and prosecution to international cooperation,” said Major General José Ángel Mendoza, director of the Antinarcotics Directorate of the National Police of Colombia. “Nonetheless, our efforts are focused on the parts that come after the crops, as they represent the main impact on narcotrafficking structures.”

In 2017, the National Police seized 285 tons of cocaine, equal to 22 tons more than in 2016. Of those, the Pacific Naval Force intercepted more than 81 tons.

Despite the challenges, ARC continues the fight narcotrafficking. “Criminal networks maintain a high degree of adaptability, but coordination among Colombia’s various law enforcement agencies and international authorities has allowed for increasingly positive results,” Gen. Mendoza concluded.

 

 

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