Colombia: Cocaine Mega-Busts Keep Coming

Photo by Getty Images

Amid moves toward peace in Colombia, the goad of the war—the country’s lucrative cocaine trade—clearly remains robust. In an international operation announced last month, Colombian police joined with U.S. and Italian authorities to confiscate a whopping 11 tons of cocaine in refrigerated containers purportedly shipping tropical fruit to Europe. The drugs were mostly seized in Colombia but were bound for the U.S. and Europe. Of the 33 arrested in the operation, 22 were popped in Colombia and the rest in Italy.

Earlier in June, Colombian and Argentine authorities teamed up to nab Wilmar Yuriano Valencia AKA “The Specialist”—one of the country’s top kingpins, said to be the inheritor of the old Cali Cartel network. “El Especialista” was popped as he arrived at Cali’s airport, where he’d just arrived on a flight from Argentina. His new Cali-based network, “los Triana,” is said to control exports to Europe.

This May, authorities announced they had seized eight metric tons of cocaine in Turbo, a Caribbean port in the violence-torn Urabá region. The shipment, which was said to belong to the “Los Urabeños” paramilitary network, was billed as the biggest cocaine bust in the country’s history—but it has reportedly already been superseded by the June seizures.

Just days before the May 15 bust, an impressive ton and a half of coke was seized in a maritime operation off the Pacific coast of the Nariño region.

Struggles for control of cocaine production, and government coca-eradication efforts, continue to fuel violence and unrest in Colombia. In words clearly unwelcome to Washington, U.N. human rights commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein stated earlier this June that the “greatest threat to peace process in Colombia is the risk of violence and human rights violations generated by the struggle to control illicit cultivation of coca and illegal mining.” (Outlaw mining operations have emerged as an important sideline for the narco networks.) But Bogotá’s El Espectador completely reversed the meaning of Al-Hussein’s comment in its headline: Cultivos de coca, la mayor amenaza para la paz,” or “Coca cultivation, the greatest threat to peace.”

This is a dangerous error of viewing coca itself as the root of the conflict—rather than the endemic poverty that forces peasants to grow it and the repressive measures taken by the state in a futile effort to stamp out the trade.

In the peace talks underway in Havana, the Colombia government and the FARC guerillas (who have bitterly opposed coca eradication until now) agreed to institute crop-substitution to wean peasants off coca cultivation in Briceño in the Antioquia region. But the peasants themselves complain that they weren’t consulted.

In the Amazon jungle region of Guaviare—the self-declared peasant “peace communities” of La Paz, La Lindosa and Nueva York, which have long refused to cooperate with any armed faction in the civil war—have now also announced that they are in a state of “resistance” against coca eradication. Last month, there was a tense stand-off in the area as peasants blocked roads to bar entry to army and National Police troops sent in to eradicate coca crops.

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