By Dialogo October 14, 2013 Atlantic Ocean drug routes leading to West Africa and Europe have become increasingly important for Colombian and Mexican transnational criminal organizations, according to authorities. The organized crime groups are transporting greater amounts of drugs to ports of entry in West Africa. Once the organized crime groups have smuggled the drugs are into West Africa, they transport them, often in vehicles or small airplanes, to markets in Europe. T he criminal groups which are sending greater amounts of drugs to Europe through West Africa include which the FARC and the Norte del Valle Cartel, from Colombia; and the Sinaloa Cartel and Los Zetas, which are both Mexican transnational criminal organizations. Latin American drug traffickers are using two basic methods to transport drugs to Africa and Europe, authorities said. • By sea, transnational criminal organizations hide drugs in large ships which travel from Latin America to Africa and Europe. Drug traffickers set up fake export operations and hide their drugs in the cargo of the phony export businesses, authorities said. Once the large ships have reached their ports, organized crime operatives often use smaller “fast boats” to transport the drugs from the ship to land. • By air, organized crime groups hire travelers, who are known as “drug mules,” to hide drugs in their luggage, in their clothes, or even inside their bodies. Once the drugs have reached West Africa, by sea or air, drug traffickers often load the drugs into land vehicles, such as SUVs, and drive them to their distribution points in Europe. Alternate destinations Security forces in Latin America and in the United States have succeeded in recent years in slowing the amount of drugs smuggled north to Mexico and the U.S. by transnational criminal organizations. This success has made the Atlantic drug routes to Africa and Europe more important to drug traffickers, said security analyst Alfredo Rangel Suárez, director of the Democracy and Security Center at the Sergio Arboleda University in Colombia. “The fight against crime and the closing of border crossings by authorities in countries where cocaine is directly introduced have forced the FARC, Los Zetas and the Sinaloa Cartel to look for new routes to satisfy demand in the European drug market, that means ports in Western Africa,” said Alfredo Rangel Suárez, Director of the Democracy and Security Center at the Sergio Arboleda University in Colombia. For Colombian drug traffickers, “the Atlantic route is becoming more important than the Pacific one,” according to the World Drug Report 2013 of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Many Brazilian drug traffickers ultimately transport their drugs to Portugal in part because they speak Portuguese, making communication easier, according to the UNODOC report. Entry points Sixteen African countries comprise the main points of entry for Latin American drug traffickers, according to a report by the American Police Community (AMERIPOL), a continental police organization of 18 countries in the Americas, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Nicaragua, and the United States. The African countries which are commonly used as entry ports are: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mail, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, Sierra Leone, and the Ivory Coast. The FARC The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) is responsible for many of the drugs which are transported to West Africa and then to Europe, Rangel Suárez said. “The FARC is the biggest cocaine smuggler in the world,” according to the security analyst. “In Colombia, more than half of the drugs produced and exported to other countries are marketed by the FARC.” Three other Colombian organized crime groups also transport drugs to West Africa and on to Europe. They are the Popular Revolutionary Anti-Subversive Army of Colombia (ERPAC), Los Urabeños, and Los Rastrojos. Los Zetas and the Sinaloa Cartel Two Mexican transnational criminal organizations, Los Zetas and the Sinaloa Cartel, smuggle cocaine from Colombia, Ecuador, and Brazil into Sierra Leone and then to Europe, according to Rangel Suárez. Los Zetas and the Sinaloa Cartel, which is led by fugitive kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, often collaborate with other Latin American organized crime groups. For example, El Chapo has formed alliances with Colombian organized crime groups, such as the Oliver Solarte Cartel. El Chapo also has partnerships with criminal organizations in such several European countries, including Spain, Portugal, Germany, Italy, Poland, and the Czech Republic, according to the European Police Office (EUROPOL), the European police agency which handles intelligence. Los Zetas also has partnerships with organized crime groups in Central American and the Caribbean. The drug cartel has also established an alliance with Ndrangheta, a Mafia organization in Italy, according to the report “Mexico: The Invisible War,” by Libera, an Italian human rights organization. “This alliance is beneficial for both criminal groups. Los Zetas transports the drugs to and within Europe while Ndrangheta guarantees secure distribution points and a number of profitable plazas,” according to the report. Transnational cooperation Transnational cooperation among security forces is crucial in the battle against drug traffickers, according to Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón. Countries need to share information, experience, and technology to fight transnational criminal organizations, the defense minister said. The AMERIPOL report also emphasizes the importance of transnational cooperation in the fight against international drug traffickers. “What we do know for a fact is that international police cooperation is a key element to undertake joint actions and respond in an adequate and firm manner to this criminal phenomenon,” the report stated.
By Marian Romero/Dialogo April 20, 2017 In a March 21st operation against drug trafficking, the Colombian Army’s Pegaso Task Force found an illegal cache of 600 homemade 81 mm cartridges in the municipality of Barbacoas, in the department of Nariño. So far this year, the Colombian Armed Forces have seized more than 2,000 grenades of various calibers in the region – the same grenades used by illegal organizations to commit terrorist acts against infrastructure such as highways, bridges, transmission towers, and oil pipelines, among others. Brigadier General Sergio Alberto Tafur García, the commander of the Colombian Army’s Pegaso Task Force, said that the department of Nariño, where the task force operates, is situated in a strategic position that has allowed crime problems such as illegal mining to fester. Over the past several years the problems have also included trafficking in weapons, ammunition, and explosives. “Historically, it [this area] has been influenced by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, per its Spanish acronym), and the National Liberation Army (ELN, per its Spanish acronym), and recently by other Organized Armed Groups (GAOs, per its Spanish acronym) that have not come out of guerilla movements. In the border area with Ecuador, Nariño has a jungle geography that facilitates the illegal trafficking of weapons,” he said. In that area, the Colombian Army has also seized 653 grenades of various calibers, 42 improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and 1,801 kilos of explosives. All thanks to the joint effort between both countries’ militaries, which have conducted a series of binational operations to effectively tackle the problem. Interference by GAOs The border between Colombia and Ecuador is characterized by a complicated geography with a lowland that features high temperatures, abundant rainfall, and lush vegetation. This topography is used by criminal groups to take refuge in the region. “Currently, the enduring threat matrix in Nariño is made up of the ELN’s Southern Comunero Front and the Gulf Clan. These two GAOs base their financing on drug trafficking and criminal mining,” Brig. Gen. Tafur noted. “Now that the FARC is transitioning over to the rule of law under the peace process, the ELN wants to take back its criminal power in these areas, but since it doesn’t have greater resources or logistical capability, it’s exerting pressure on the civilian population and the government through terrorism.” On the Ecuadorean side of the border, the problem of explosives trafficking is linked to the strategic position the nation holds on the continent, and to poverty. “Trafficking networks find this border attractive because of its porosity with Colombia,” stated Joint Chiefs of Staff Colonel Francisco Narváez Vaca, who commands the Ecuadorean Army’s 31st Infantry Brigade, called Andes. “There are Ecuadoreans and Colombians grappling with unemployment who have gotten used to the culture of criminality on the border. Encouraged by the ability to solve their families’ basic needs, they end up in [collaboration with] common criminal organizations,” he said. Among other seizures in 2017, the Joint Command of the Ecuadorean Armed Forces on March 15th found 18 sacks containing approximately 546 kilograms of ammonium nitrate in the area. Binational Border Security Strategy Brig. Gen. Tafur explained that the unlawful importation of weapons reached its zenith in 2015 when 1,267 grenades of various calibers, 1,360 IEDs, and 6,916 kilos of explosives were seized. These figures alarmed the military authorities at the border. As a result, a binational plan was drawn up to tackle the problem in a coordinated way. “Colombia’s Army Command brought in 180 men to bolster security at the border. It was a group of regular soldiers who control illegal border crossings along the 243 kilometers of the land and river border,” Brig. Gen. Tafur said. “That way, soldiers specialized in counterinsurgency can continue to confront the specific challenges within that department.” Today the border between Colombia and Ecuador has an early alert system for conducting ordinance seizure and destruction operations. This was made possible through tactical binational meetings, intelligence sharing, patrolling and monitoring of land, river, and sea border crossings, and the parallel actions generally are taken to prevent illegal trafficking in explosives between the two nations. “A threat to Colombian or Ecuadorean security at the border is a shared threat. That is why our two nations’ armies maintain close relations and why we have deployed mechanisms for counteracting illicit acts while honoring the interests of the other country and protecting the people who live at the border,” Col. Narváez stated. Through their management of these border issues, the Ecuadorean Armed Forces and police are growing increasingly precise in their intelligence, communications, and mobility. This is all intended to prevent the problems associated with the end of the armed conflict in Colombia and to protect the civilian population. “Staying in constant communication — sharing communications between intelligence agencies in order to conduct joint military operations — is crucial for keeping our cooperation agreements in force and thus effectively combating the illegal trafficking of drugs, weapons, contraband, and the guerilla insurgency. These are the most pronounced issues at the border,” Col. Narváez said. Both nations have organized comprehensive action events in which work crews fan out across the border communities offering health services and distributing provisions. These events are held in both countries every six months, benefitting nearly 5,000 residents. On March 24th, as follow-up to this cooperation effort, Colombia’s Deputy Minister of Defense and International Affairs Aníbal Fernández de Soto met with Ecuador’s Deputy Minister of Security Coordination Andrés Fernando de la Vega Grunauer for the purpose of signing the Annual Operating Plan, a binational mechanism through which their joint defense and security plans and strategies for 2017 will be formulated.
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