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Colombia: Drug cartel ‘miniaturization’

Colombia was home to legendary drug traffickers in the 90s, and despite the demise of several drug cartels in the 2000s, the area cultivated with coca in the country has not decreased, and considerable incomes have been earned from Colombian cocaine traffic over the past 20 years. This index, according to some analysts, reveals the failure of the strategy known as Plan Colombia, the name for the US aid package to combat drugs. The Colombian drug trade is currently fragmented, big cartels have been replaced by several small groups. This fragmentation has been defined as ‘cartel miniaturization’. These groups, which increasingly forge alliances with the Mexican traffickers, have identified efficient systems for delivering cocaine, new export routes and techniques to hide drugs. Traffickers use both human and animal couriers to deliver drugs. Human couriers are trained to swallow ovules containing approximately 800 grams of cocaine, or else drugs are hidden in the human body, sometimes tucked in folds of fat inserted into surgically created cavities. When animals are used, drugs can be hidden in cows’ vaginas or under dogs’ skin.

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Traffickers today have enough capital under their control to build sophisticated smuggling equipment, such as a high-tech submarine that was recently discovered by the Colombian National Police. Colombian cocaine traffickers had hired engineering experts from Russia to help with the design of the submarine, which apparently would have been used to secretly ship large quantities of cocaine to the United States. Drug-smuggling submarines leave the Colombian coasts, often escorted by some fishing boats, and follow the sea routes between Malopelo island and the Galapagos, directed to the north-west to meet the Mexican ship of the drug traffickers that will sort the cocaine load to various destinations.

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Narco-submarines can even be remote-controlled by a second support vessel that follows them, keeping a prudent distance. People on the support vessel, at the appropriate time, give the Mexican drug traffickers the hardware for the subsequent control of operations. Small aircrafts are used for shipping big drug loads, they take-off and land in secluded landing fields, scattered throughout the territory. Besides the Pacific route, the Western Caribbean route that goes through Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, to reach Mexico, Florida and the east coast from Central America plays a key role, since the Caribbean basin is used as the ‘hub’ or transit point in the routes to the major drug markets. Guerrilla groups such as FARC and ELN are also deeply involved in narco-trafficking. FARC people have been extorting taxes in exchange for protection of illicit cultivations against the state for years. Over time they have extended their protection to laboratories and above all to clandestine landing strips where small aircrafts, packed with tons of cocaine, take-off to reach the destination markets. In recent years, the guerrillas groups started to directly manage the cultivation of coca and opium, so that some analysts refer to the guerrilla group as the FARC Cartel. Over the last years, Colombian rebels occupied several territories of Ecuador, areas of difficult access, where they have set up drug refineries and warehouses. In the ongoing peace talks in Havana, on 16 May, Colombia’s government and the Farc, have agreed to eliminate all illicit drug production in Colombia.

(F.R.)

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