Amid peace talks in Havana, Colombia‘s FARC guerillas issued an angry communique December 14, insisting, “We are a rebel group, not narco-traffickers.” This was in response to President Juan Manuel Santos’ suggestion that FARC drug trafficking could be considered a “political crime,” potentially sparing guerilla leaders prosecution. This of course won Santos howls of outrage from the right; now he gets it from the other side.
The FARC statement accused the government of trying to “confuse the minds of Colombians” with a “distortion” and decried the existence of a “capitalist narco-trafficking business” in the country.
Five days later, authorities in Panama announced the arrest of 59 in an operation against a narco-trafficking ring linked to both the FARC and Mexico’s leading cartel. The 18-month investigation led to the seizure of three tons of coke, as well as cars, speed-boats, cash and several bank accounts.
A total of $546,256 was confiscated. Most of those arrested were Colombian and Mexican. Javier Caraballo, Panama’s top anti-drug prosecutor, said the investigation began in October 2013 after the accused FARC operative Jair Estupiñán Montaño AKA “Pecueca” was extradited from Colombia to face US federal charges in New York, and his network started to unravel. Caraballo linked the ring to both the FARC’s 30th Front and a Sinaloa Cartel boss he named as Martín Pérez AKA “Richard” – who was said to be the ringleader.
This was the second such bust of supposed FARC cocaine shipments in Panama in recent months. The first, in September, was linked to the FARC’s 57th Front. The 57th Front is based in Chocó, and the 30th in Cauca – both regions on Colombia’s Pacific coast known as critical cocaine transfer zones where the FARC is either at war with or collaborating with right-wing paramilitaries in a contest for control of smuggling routes.