It was not enough for the Mexican mafias to have control of the national territory: they needed to expand to control the supply of cocaine and in Colombia, they found a fertile field. During the last five years, the coca crops have tripled in the South American country and intelligence reports attribute this expansion to finance the various cartels Mexico who have settled there, absorbing small local criminal groups who have settled there. The Colombian authorities already catalog this phenomenon as “a national security problem”.
BOGOTÁ (Process) .- One of the first things that journalist Francisco Santos did when Colombian President Ivan Duque appointed him last August as his ambassador to the United States was to read all the reserved information that he could have access to on what there is behind the 171 thousand hectares of coca leaf planted in this country.
Santos, who was vice president of Colombia between 2002 and 2010, knew that this record amount of illicit crops that have made Colombia the world’s leading producer of cocaine is the subject of the bilateral relationship that Washington is most interested in.
So much so, that US President Donald Trump has threatened to “decertify” Colombia’s anti-drug struggle if the country does not do something to “immediately” reduce coca crops, which have tripled in the last four years.
But what surprised Santos the most about his findings on this issue was not the speed with which illicit crops increased, but the information, by an intelligence report provided by a national security agency, that the organizations that most encouraged this growth were the Mexican drug cartels.
According to the report, known by Proceso , Mexican drug trafficking organizations control nearly 100 thousand hectares of coca fields in Colombia – more than half of the total – through the criminal gangs and FARC dissidents that work for them and In addition, they are the buyers of “at least two thirds” of the base paste and cocaine produced in that country.
That fact turns cartels like Sinaloa, Jalisco Nueva Generación and Los Zetas into a new security threat for Colombia.
According to different estimates of national and foreign security organizations, only these three criminal organizations can have armies of between 1,000 and 3,500 armed men at their service in Colombian territory.
And, for six years, the Mexican cartels saw with concern the beginning of peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the ex-guerrilla group of the FARC, which was the organization that controlled the majority of illicit crops in Colombia, and they insisted on generating conditions that will guarantee the continuous supply of this drug.
This coincided with the fall of large Colombian drug lords with whom they negotiated directly the purchase of huge shipments of cocaine. At the end of 2012 Daniel “El Loco” Barrera and Ericson Vargas Cardona, “Sebastián”, two of their main partners in this country, were captured, which forced them to look for “alternative sources of supply”.
The Mexican mafias realized that the fragmentation of the drug trafficking business in Colombia “was an opportunity to establish a hegemony and impose its conditions” in this country.
“As partners, they have almost become our bosses,” an ex-drug dealer who claims to be retired for several years from this criminal activity tells this weekly.
The fact is that the enormous cash flow available to Mexican cartels, a product of the fact that since the last decade dominate the most profitable part of the business – the transportation of cocaine from Colombia to the United States – allowed them to impose conditions on their Colombian partners.
The Anti-Narcotics Director of the National Police, General Fabián Laurence Cárdenas, points out that “today, the Mexican cartels, in their aggressive expansion of the business, no longer want to have intermediaries, but want to negotiate directly with the producer in Colombia, that is why they are coming to do business here. “
Also, he indicates, “about five years ago they began to have problems because they contracted a certain quality of cocaine, 85 percent or 90 percent purity, and they got another one of lower quality, very ‘surrendered’, as it is said here “
Today they have delegates overseeing all phases of the production process: from the coca leaf crops, where they have been captured “in situ” Mexican emissaries, to the cocaine hydrochloride laboratories, where they verify that the quality of the drug is the agreed upon one. in the negotiation.
Many of these delegates embark even on the boats and semi-submersibles that carry the drug to Central America and Mexico on their way to the United States, which is finally the destination of shipments.
“With their financing capacity, the Mexican cartels bought criminal gangs and residual groups of the FARC to control the production of coca. They already controlled the distribution and today they are close to controlling production. For this, they need territorial control and they are acquiring it very quickly through Colombian organizations that work for them, “says a military intelligence report.
General Cárdenas, director of the National Police Antinarcotics, discards that Mexican organizations are direct owners of coca leaf crops, but recognizes that they have a network of delegates in several regions of Colombia through which they have put to work for them to local criminal gangs and FARC dissidents.
Colombia’s Attorney General, Nestor Humberto Martinez, considers a column of former FARC guerrillas commanded by “Guacho” who separated from the peace process and dedicated himself to drug trafficking in the southwestern city of Tumaco – the municipality of the world where more coca is sown – is, in fact, an “armed arm” of the Sinaloa Cartel.
“Guacho” and Dairo Antonio Úsuga David, known as “Otoniel” and who is the head of the Gulf Clan, are the two most wanted criminals in Colombia and are also two of the main partners of the Mexican drug cartels in this country.
A source from the Ministry of Defense indicates that it is highly probable that “Guacho” and “Otoniel” will be discharged or captured in the short or medium term, “but today the main problem for Colombia is not them, but the transnational organizations that are behind: the Mexican drug cartels, which have a growing presence in the country. “
General Cárdenas points out that this presence is not with its own armed structures but through emissaries that come to do business and with local gangs and which provide them with “security services”.
A study by the National Police indicates that, inasmuch as they reinforced their presence in Central America and Colombia, the Mexican cartels “realized that the drug they were buying had to pass through several intermediaries on their way to Mexico, which expensive the price. “
For this reason, “along with their expansion, they were cutting off those drug trafficking logistic chains that were very costly.”
And “nowadays it is clear that in Central America there is a presence and a total domination of the Mexican cartels and that all logistics chains handle them, which is increasingly clear in Colombia,” the report adds.
General Cárdenas indicates that the challenge posed to this country by Mexican criminal organizations “is a very serious threat to national security that we are addressing with the greatest seriousness.”
And is not for less. A foreign intelligence agency estimates that the Mexican drug cartels already have a private army of between 2,500 and 3,500 men armed with war material in Colombia.
An intelligence official of the National Police of Colombia (PNC) consulted on the matter refutes that figure and says that the Mexican organizations have control of “about 1,000” armed men in this country, which are as many as the fighters that the guerrilla Army would have. of National Liberation (ELN).
The issue is so serious that it is increasingly incorporated into the political agenda. Senator and former presidential candidate Gustavo Petro believes that “the power factors of the mafias in Colombia are increasingly more Mexican.”
The drug cartels of Mexico, he says, “are already here with private armies in their service that are leading a new war, the war for the control of coca.”
General Cárdenas states that what most concerns Colombian security institutions is “the unlimited access to military equipment” that Mexican cartels have.
“We are well aware of the ability of Mexican criminal organizations to obtain weapons, military weapons, war weapons, and we are committed to preventing that type of weapons from ending up in the hands of Colombian criminal gangs,” he says.
But that is already happening, says an intelligence officer of a European agency. “Many drug payments are being made with weapons, and that can be seen in the modern weaponry that Colombian groups are already using,” he says.
According to the intelligence report of the National Police known as Proceso, the growing presence of the Mexican drug cartels in Colombia is framed in “the drug trafficking hegemony that these organizations are developing worldwide.”
They have managed, he adds, to diversify their markets by establishing “strategic alliances and / or cooperation agreements with different crime actors in the world and Colombia is not the exception”.
The main interest of the Mexican cartels, says the report, is to monitor the quality and quantity of drugs in production areas.
“What matters to them is the price and quality of the cocaine and that the level of production they need is maintained the supply. They pay the organized crime group that controls the area where they do business, they pay for their safety, and those services can include a homicide or the collection of a debt, “he adds.
An anti-narcotics agent consulted in this regard maintains that they have not found indications that Mexican cartels bring armed groups from Mexico “because they do not need to do it and they would expose themselves too much to our actions”.
They, he says, “receive these services from Colombian groups and what is given is a business relationship in which (…) they make advances to buy drugs and guarantee their production and quality”.
In the southwestern department of Nariño, where a quarter of the country’s illicit crops are concentrated, the National Police has received reports of land purchases from Mexican “investors” or their “frontmen,” and even engineers have been captured. Mexican agronomists who supervise the quality of coca leaf plantations.
The anti-drug official consulted by this weekly newspaper would not be surprised if the phases of the production of that drug are increasingly transferred to Central America and Mexico, where there are propitious atmospheric conditions – tropical and subtropical climate – to plant coca leaves.
For the time being, an intelligence report indicates that Mexican cartels are increasingly taking coca base paste to Mexico to transform it into cocaine hydrochloride, with the help of Colombian chemists, in laboratories that are installed in that country.
“Mexican criminals buy Colombian coca base to process it in Mexico and double its weight,” the document said.
According to the report, the Sinaloa Cartel has the oldest presence in this country. There are reports that the son of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, the former chief of that organization, was in Medellín intermittently in the last two years.
That cartel does business with the Gulf Clan, which is the largest Colombian criminal gang despite the harsh blows that the security forces have given it, as part of the “interdependence and criminal complementarity.”
In the northwestern region of Urabá, bastion of the Gulf Clan, police intelligence agents have received reports that that organization would be negotiating with the Sinaloa Cartel a “transfer of operations that would allow Mexicans to keep the structure of the Clan of the Gulf in exchange for a percentage of operations, in the franchise modality “.
The influence of the Mexican drug traffickers is so growing, that according to sources of the Colombian Prosecutor’s Office they are acting more and more as regulators of the crime.
“We know that Mexicans participated in the ‘Pacto del Fusil’ that stopped a war between gangs in Medellín in 2013 and that today there are envoys from Mexican cartels interested in promoting a similar agreement in the city (where this year there has been an increase in homicides due to disputes between factions of the Office), “says the source.
The expert in coca and conflict, Camilo González Posso, argues that the dismantling of the large Colombian cartels – those of Medellín, Cali and Norte del Valle – and the fragmentation of the business enabled the Mexican drug cartels, which grew subordinated to the Colombians were “assuming new roles in the chain to become the dominant structures of the business.”
So dominant, that its presence in some regions of Colombia is ostensible.
Proceso learned from a source close to a criminal investigation that last month, between September 7 and 11, Mexican and Colombian drug traffickers held a four-day party at a hotel in a well-known tourist town north of Medellin, in which there was continuous music, with live Colombian groups and a DJ who played northern Mexican and band music.
“The neighbors complained about the noise, but no authority approached the place,” says the source.
The irruption of the CJNG
A report prepared by an elite group of the Army specialized in combating drug trafficking indicates that the presence of Mexican cartels in Colombia intensified since 2008 with the Sinaloa and Los Zetas cartels, and as of 2014, “the arrival of envoys of the Jalisco Cartel Nueva Generación (CJNG).
He adds that “the decision” of these organizations to assume greater control over the production and transportation of the drug came after the capture of “El Loco” Barrera and “Sebastián”, who was the head of the Office in Medellín.
In search of replacements for drug shipments sent by “Sebastián”, the Mexican cartels soon found direct partners for the marketing of narcotics.
“Many Medellin gangs ended up associated and in some way supported by the Mexican cartels, which are currently engaged not only in negotiating narcotics with them but also in receiving protection when they are in the city,” the report said.
He points out that while the Sinaloa and Los Zetas Cartels have consolidated their operations in Antioquia’s lower Cauca – north-east of Medellín – Urabá, Cauca and Nariño, the CJNG has an increasing presence in the Catatumbo (on the border with Venezuela) ; in Nariño and Putumayo, the two Colombian departments with the largest number of coca leaf crops, and in southwestern Cali.
Last Tuesday, October 9, the operator of the CJNG in Cali, Bernabé Millán Rascón, a Mexican known as “El Manco”, was captured at the El Dorado airport in Bogota because he is missing part of his left arm and who was negotiating the purchase of cargoes. cocaine with Colombian bands in that region of the country.
He was arrested for extradition to the United States, where he faces charges for drug trafficking.
In the department of Nariño, the National Police has identified laboratories to process cocaine that periodically receive visits “from emissaries of the Sinaloa cartel, who act as supervisors of the alkaloid conversion process” and operate a clandestine semi-submersible jetty that is They manufacture under your specifications.
Last June, 16 Mexicans and one Ecuadorian linked to the Sinaloa Cartel were detained in the mangroves of Nariño with 1,300 kilograms of cocaine that they enlisted in a semi-submersible for shipment to Mexico.
In the southwestern department of Cauca, in sectors, El Plateado, El Sinaí and El Mango, agents of the National Police detected an “alliance” between two criminal groups working for the Sinaloa Cartel – “Los Cabezones” and “Los Mexicanos” – and the guerrilla of the National Liberation Army (ELN).
This, “for the traffic of cocaine hydrochloride with high degrees of purity”.
Also in Cauca, in the municipalities of Suárez and Buenos Aires, “there has been evidence of the presence of members of the Mexican cartel ‘Los Zetas’, coordinating drug trafficking activities.”
But the National Police has also detected that the rise of the CJNG in Mexico “has become evident” in Colombia, where the powerful cartel that sustains a dispute with Sinaloa “has an increasing incidence in the main Colombian regions producing coca.”
Last month, the Mexican Navy intercepted 2,259 kilos of cocaine from the CJNG on the coasts of Oaxaca. The drug had left Timbiquí, a town on the Colombian Pacific coast, in a boat in which four Mexicans, three Colombians and a Canadian were traveling.
According to the police anti-narcotics director, General Fabián Laurence Cárdenas, the exchange of information between the authorities of Mexico, Colombia and the United States to attack the increasing presence of Mexican cartels in this country is “very close”.
There is more and more monitoring of Mexican citizens who, for some reason, call the attention of the Colombian authorities. To some, they refrain to question them and ask for information from them to the Federal Police or the Attorney General of the Republic of Mexico.
“We observe the entry of citizens of Mexican nationality by the cities of Bogotá, Neiva, Ibagué, and Cali, where they travel by land to municipalities of Cauca and Nariño, in order to hold meetings with members of illegal groups,” says the report. from the police.
In the last five years, 276 Mexicans have been captured in Colombia – almost five each month – on charges of manufacturing or carrying narcotics. 12 percent of them were detained at sea, while they were transporting cocaine in speedboats or semi-submersibles in the Pacific Ocean.
The phenomenon led authorities in Colombia, Mexico, and the United States to create a joint task force to combat drug trafficking in the Pacific. The armed forces and the coastguard services of the three countries and the DEA, the US anti-drug agency, participate in this operation.
One embodiment using Mexican drug to start “build confidence” with Colombian criminal gangs is leaving his people to monitor the whole process of production and processing coca-cocaine hydrochloride (which is cocaine in its purest) and those same people embark on the semi-submersibles or the boats that carry the drug to Mexico.
If the cocaine is transported in containers, they return by plane.
The Colombian organization, for its part, sends “in guarantee” to one of its members to Mexico that remains in the power of the cartel with which they made the business until the narcotic reaches its destination. There have already been cases of executions when things go wrong.
The general Fabian Laurence Cárdenas points out that the envoys, delegates and emissaries of the Mexican cartels are “generally of the managerial profile, entrepreneurial businessmen of great experience and people of great confidence of their bosses”.
But also, he says, “they have sent very violent people, like gunmen, when they have problems”.
“They come to generate pressure, not to commit homicides. That’s why they hire people here. But they send very violent people “, clarifies the anti-narcotics director.
Explains that the payment of shipments is increasingly made by the financial system, through business transactions with a legal facade, or through dozens of money transfers in small quantities, which makes it difficult to trace.
For the expert in security and professor of the EAFIT University of Medellin, Gustavo Duncan, the growing presence of the Mexican cartels in this country is worrisome, from the Colombian perspective, for the effect it can have on the rebound of violence after the agreement of peace with the ex-guerrilla of the FARC and the repercussion in Colombia of the disputes between the criminal organizations in Mexico.
“The question is whether the war (between cartels) in Mexico moves here and whether the financing of Mexicans to local gangs can help to restructure armed organizations that have been volatilized and that lost social pressure capacity, but that is encouraged by a unifying factor may have an important capacity for social control again, “says the academic.
And this, he says, because the great success of the war against drugs in Colombia was not to stop the narcotics traffic to the United States, which remains at the usual levels, but to reduce the social control capacity of the organizations that participate or they participated -like the Medellin Cartel and the FARC- in that criminal activity.
“That’s the point,” says Duncan.
This is an updated version of the report that was published in the 2190 edition of Proceso magazine on October 21, 2018.
The Mazatlan Post