The FARC engage in criminal activities to fund their struggle to overthrow the state. There is very little difference between the way they and the BACRIM raise money. The only difference is where the money goes: to fund a cause or for personal enrichment.

The FARC now have two principal streams of income. The most significant is drug trafficking. The second is extortion. After this come involvement in mining, particularly gold but also coltan, and then their legal investments in lands and businesses in their areas of influence. The finances of certain fronts were hit when the group renounced kidnapping in February 2012, one of the government’s preconditions for sitting down to peace talks. Should FARC elements break away, they could again turn to kidnapping for ransom as a means of raising revenue.

This article is part of a series about the challenges of the peace process with the FARC in Colombia. See full report here.

The FARC and Drug Trafficking

“I wanted to be definitive in this: no FARC unit, according to documents and decisions that govern us, can grow, process, trade, sell or consume hallucinogenic or psychotropic substances. Everything said to the contrary is propaganda.”

– FARC commander-in-chief Alfonso Cano, in an interview with the Spanish publication Público, 11 June 2011.1

Another, more recent denial of the FARC’s involvement in the drug trade came on March 17, 2013, from Ricardo Gonzalez, alias “Rodrigo Granda,” one of the FARC negotiators in Havana, who said that such accusations made him laugh and insisted that “you aren’t talking to any drug traffickers here, you’re talking to an armed group.”

So the FARC continue to maintain that they are not drug traffickers, and that they simply impose a tax on all economic activities in the areas they control, among them the drug trade, which they call the “gramaje.” However, there is abundant evidence of FARC participation in every link in the drug chain, including the export and transnational level. All members of the FARC Secretariat and the Central General Staff have standing US extradition warrants on drug trafficking charges. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) does not need to build individual cases against FARC leaders; all they have to do is prove that a captured FARC leader is a member of either of these two rebel command structures and it is enough to secure a conviction for drug trafficking.2

In terms of numbers, military capacity, territorial control and earnings from the drug trade, the FARC is one of the most powerful drug trafficking syndicates in Colombia, and perhaps the world.

Most FARC fronts that operate in coca growing areas levy taxes on the coca farmers (up to $50 per kilo of coca base), and on the buyers of coca base (around $200 per kilo). Fees are also charged on drug laboratories in these areas, the transit of cocaine shipments, and the departure of flights carrying drugs. At a local level, the FARC not only charge taxes on the purchase of both coca base and cocaine, but have a monopoly on all drug transactions in their territory. Any coca farmer seeking to sell coca base without paying the FARC runs a high risk. Any buyer seeking to purchase coca base or cocaine from FARC territory without permission could be shot.

However, the involvement of several FARC fronts in the drug business goes far beyond simple protection and “taxes.” There are also fronts involved in the crystallization of cocaine, either directly operating cocaine laboratories or subcontracting this to others under their supervision.

A kilo of coca base costs around $1,000 in Colombia. However, earnings from cocaine are significantly higher, depending where the drugs are sold. In Colombia’s interior, a kilo of cocaine (around 90 percent pure) will sell for at least $2,000. If that kilo is brought to the border, its value rises to $3,000. That kilo in a neighboring country (Venezuela, Ecuador, Brazil, Panama) is worth $4,000 to $6,000. Get that kilo to Central America and it is worth $8,000 to $12,000. Arrival in Mexico secures $12,000 to $15,000. On the US mainland, that same kilo is worth at least $25,000, while in the United Kingdom that number reaches $60,000. The FARC are routinely moving cocaine into neighboring countries, and there is evidence that they are also able to move shipments up to Central America, if not further afield.

There is a vast discrepancy in estimates of how much cocaine is being produced in Colombia. In 2010, the White House presented a figure of 260 metric tons. The US State Department’s International Narcotics Control Strategy Report put the number at 270 tons, while the United Nations reported 375 tons.

If one engages in some (equally) crude calculations, splitting the difference between these estimates, one can estimate that around 300 tons of cocaine are produced each year. InSight Crime actually believes this figure to be on the low side. The FARC control around 60 percent of coca crops, possibly more, according to the government. If the FARC were just charging “taxes” on coca base, the rebels would be earning $45 million a year (60 percent of 300 tons is 180 tons, multiplied by the $250 profit that the FARC earn from a kilo of coca base). Working on the premise that a decent chemist can get a kilo of cocaine from a kilo of coca base, if the FARC were dealing cocaine in-country (at $3,000 a kilo) then gross earnings would be closer to $500 million. If the FARC were exporting that same amount of cocaine to Central America, the figure would be $1.8 billion. The truth is a mixture of the above calculations. Most of the guerrilla fronts deal in coca base. A smaller percentage also handles some cocaine, while the principal drug trafficking fronts (see map below) are engaged in exportation. A realistic figure of FARC earnings from the drug trade would be well over $200 million.

The FARC turned towards cocaine exportation during the failed peace process with former President Andres Pastrana (1999-2002). Key to this was the 42,000 km² safe haven or “despeje” given to the rebels, their precondition for sitting down to peace talks. This safe haven provided the perfect meeting point for the FARC, in both the legal and illegal spheres. While journalists, politicians, businessmen and international delegations made their way to the FARC “capital” San Vicente del Caguan, Caqueta, arms dealers, drug traffickers, and members of other groups on international lists of terrorist organizations (Basque separatist group the ETA and the Provisional IRA among them) also met behind the scenes.

During the three years of FARC occupation, the planting of coca crops tripled in the five municipalities that composed the safe haven, and international drug contacts were made. One of the best documented cases was that of Carlos Charry, alias “El Doctor,” who, apparently on orders of Eastern Bloc commander Mono Jojoy, established connections with the Arellano Felix cartel in Tijuana, Mexico in 2000.3 This was not an isolated incident. In November 2002, a US court accused Mono Jojoy of negotiating the delivery of 20 tons of cocaine to the Guadalajara Cartel.4 In 2003, the United States convicted Eugenio Vargas Perdomo, alias “Carlos Bolas,” a rebel from the 16th Front, of running a cocaine network via Suriname that swapped drugs for arms.5

Since 2008, there has been a steady stream of reports of the FARC supplying Mexican cartels with drugs.6 There appears to be a long-established connection between the Sinaloa Cartel and the FARC’s 48th Front. The 48th Front moves large quantities of coca base and cocaine into Ecuador via the Colombian department of Putumayo.7 The FARC have also been traced moving cocaine shipments into Venezuela, using the 33rd, 16th and 10th Fronts.8 The FARC’s 57th Front, situated on both sides of Colombia’s border with Panama, also moves cocaine into Central America.9 In November 2012, Panamanian police clashed with FARC rebels on the border, killing one and seizing bags of cocaine.10 Along the Pacific coast, there have been numerous reports of the FARC loading cocaine shipments into drug submarines or semi-submersibles, most bound for Central America and Mexico. These shipments have been mainly associated with the 29th and 30th Fronts.11

What is certain is that many FARC leaders have international contacts with major transnational drug trafficking organizations. They also have access to both coca base and cocaine. These connections mean millions of dollars for whoever has them, and could be used by FARC members whether they were still part of the organization or not.

Alliances with BACRIM

Whereas in the last chapter of Colombia’s civil conflict (1997-2006), the guerrillas and the AUC paramilitaries fought for control of coca crops, the paramilitaries’ successors, the BACRIM, are not interested in fighting the guerrillas. They are more mafia structures than illegal armies, and while they still have a limited military capability, they cannot hope to take on the FARC. Instead, they want to purchase coca base and cocaine from the guerrillas and sell it to their international partners.

This is an ideal situation for the FARC. They keep control of coca producing areas, which ensures their continued influence over one of their political bases, the “cocaleros” or coca-growers, and the “raspachines,” those who harvest coca leaves. They earn pesos for their day-to-day operations by selling coca base, and occasionally cocaine, to the BACRIM and other, independent, buyers. However, the purchase of weapons and munitions on the international black market requires US dollars, and the easiest way for the FARC to earn dollars is to export cocaine themselves.

There have been reports of FARC-BACRIM relationships in Antioquia,12 Cauca, Caquetá,13 Choco, Cordoba (the army captured members of the Urabeños and an emissary from the FARC’s 58th Front together in a drug laboratory14), Nariño,15 Norte de Santander,16 Meta,17 Putumayo,18 and Valle del Cauca.19

There is evidence that the nature of the FARC-BACRIM relationship has gone well beyond the buying and selling of coca base. During field research in Antioquia and Cordoba,20 cases came to light where the BACRIM had paid for coca base not just in cash, but with supplies, which are often hard for the FARC to get in the Nudo de Paramillo, where they are essentially surrounded by the security forces and have little access to urban centres. There have been repeated allegations that the Rastrojos have supplied the FARC with arms in exchange for drugs.21 Military and police sources in Caucasia (Antioquia) also told InSight Crime that there was evidence that certain BACRIM figures, through penetration of the security forces, were providing intelligence to the FARC regarding Colombian army operations. There have even been rumors of the FARC providing military training to BACRIM members.

While the FARC negotiators in Havana have denied any kind of relationship with the BACRIM,22 it is clear that over time certain FARC commanders have established links and even personal relationships with BACRIM leaders. The BACRIM would like nothing more than to secure access to drug crops and coca base by bringing guerrilla elements into their networks. They would be able to offer very high incentives to local rebel commanders who could guarantee them a steady supply of drugs. This means that the fronts with BACRIM contacts present a far higher risk of potential criminalization than others. The same is the case with FARC members who have links to transnational criminal groups like the Mexican cartels. The Mexican organizations have already moved down the drug chain, seeking to remove the middlemen. They would be happy to secure a steady supply of cocaine from rebels and not have to pay the BACRIM for their brokering services.

FARC Earnings by Bloc and the Chances of Fragmentation or Criminalization

Caribbean Bloc or Martin Caballeros Bloc

This is the weakest bloc in economic terms. Based mainly in Venezuela, it has a presence along the border in both the Cesar and La Guajira departments. Made up of the 19th, 41st and 59th Fronts, it earns money from extortion and may be involved in smuggling petrol from Venezuela to Colombia. The criminalization of this bloc is unlikely, as it is tightly controlled by Ivan Marquez and has close ties to Timochenko and to the newest member of the Secretariat, Hermilo Cabrera Diaz, alias “Bertulfo.” It also has the greatest presence at the negotiating table in Havana. In addition, it lacks access to significant criminal income and in military terms is extremely weak, perhaps able to field 300 fighters at most.

Magdalena Medio Bloc (BMM)

This is the bloc with the closest ties to the current leadership, as Timochenko led this FARC division and continues to have day-to-day control over its units in Norte de Santander. Current bloc commander Felix Antonio Muñoz Lascarro, alias “Pastor Alape,” is a close associate of Timochenko, and runs the BMM units in Sur de Bolivar, Antioquia and into Santander.

However, this bloc is deeply involved in drug trafficking, not only imposing the usual taxes on coca production in Sur de Bolivar and Norte de Santander, but also smuggling drugs into neighboring Venezuela. Both Timochenko and Pastor Alape have long been in the sights of international law enforcement agencies, with the US Department of State offering up to $2.5 million for information leading to the arrest of either man.

Like the Caribbean Bloc, the BMM has a permanent presence on the Venezuelan side of the border. It is believed to work with corrupt elements in the Venezuelan security forces, both to secure logistical support (weapons, munitions and medical supplies) and to smuggle drugs. A significant percentage of the estimated 200 tons of Colombian cocaine passing into Venezuela is handled by the FARC, and some of this is delivered to corrupt elements in the Venezuelan Armed Forces, known as the “Cartel of the Suns.”23

While this bloc, and units within it, are unlikely to break away from the FARC central leadership, its control over a large amount of transnational criminal activity would offer significant opportunities for FARC members to continue in illegal activities after demobilization. The existence of drug crops (as well as gold mines) in the BMM’s area of operations, its control of cross border smuggling routes, and its contacts with international cocaine buyers all mean that elements of this bloc are sitting on key drug trafficking real estate with all the contacts needed to operate at a high level in the drug trafficking world.

Eastern Bloc

The most powerful FARC bloc in terms of numbers and territory, the Eastern Bloc, has also had the most overt involvement with drug trafficking. While the current head of the Eastern Bloc, Jaime Alberto Parra Rodriguez, alias “Mauricio Jaramillo” or “El Medico,” was instrumental in the secret negotiations that led to the formal launch of peace talks last year, he retired from the process and there are currently no representatives in Havana from the FARC’s strongest fighting division.

Until the launch of the peace process with President Andres Pastrana in 1999, the Eastern Bloc was, militarily, one of the most active. However, after 2002 it adopted an increasingly lower profile and, today, despite its size and military capacity, it maintains the lowest levels of hostilities of all the blocs compared to its offensive capacity. This was the case even before Mono Jojoy, the bloc’s former commander and the FARC’s field marshal, was killed in an aerial bombardment in September 2010. The Eastern Bloc was the principal objective of the Democratic Security Policy of former President Alvaro Uribe. Its stronghold in La Macarena, in the eastern province of Meta, became the first consolidation zone for the government, and the target of the military’s first Joint Task Force.

All of this has meant that the command and control of the Eastern Bloc has been one of the hardest hit. The bloc has also effectively been divided in two, with the northern elements in the Arauca department essentially separated from the rest of the bloc ever since the guerrillas lost control of movement corridors through the department of Casanare.

This weakness in command and control, combined with a deep involvement in drug trafficking, places units within the Eastern Bloc at a higher risk of criminalization. Under Mono Jojoy, the Eastern Bloc embraced the earnings from the drug trade. The 16th Front, in the departments of Guainia and Vichada, was one of the pioneers in exporting cocaine in bulk. Under the leadership of Tomas Medina Caracas, alias “Negro Acacio,” the 16th Front exported up to 20 tons of cocaine a month, working with Brazilian drug trafficker Luiz Fernando da Costa, alias “Fernandinho Beira-Mar” (“Fredy Seashore”). Their partnership came to an end after Beira-Mar was arrested by the Colombian army in April 2001, in the jungles of Guainia. Under Negro Acacio, the 16th Front became the principal money-maker for the entire Eastern Bloc. Indeed, it may have become the biggest moneymaking front in the entire rebel army.

This drug trade revenue flow was halted in September 2007, when Negro Acacio was killed in an aerial bombardment along with many of the 16th Front’s senior commanders. This was a serious blow to the Eastern Bloc’s finances, but these export networks, and the running of the Frontier Commission on the borders with Venezuela and Brazil, are now being rebuilt by Elmer Mata Caviedes, alias “Albeiro Cordoba.” He is FARC aristocracy, the son of FARC founding member and former Secretariat member Noel Matta Matta-Guzman, alias “Efrain Guzman,” who died in 2003. Albeiro Cordoba now controls a mini-bloc, or Interfrente, made up of the 1st, 16th, 39th and 44th Fronts, and is responsible for much of the Eastern Bloc’s drug trafficking operations.

The Eastern Bloc is also home to one of the most notorious of the FARC’s drug traffickers, the former head of the 43rd Front, Gener Garcia Molina, alias “Jhon 40,” who allegedly handled up to 100 tons of cocaine a year.24 Jhon 40 became synonymous with the growth of narco-culture within the FARC. He became notorious for hiring prostitutes, wearing Rolex watches and generally living the high life. For a long time he was forgiven his excesses, because he provided the FARC with a steady stream of income. However, there is evidence that in 2010 he was brought before one of the FARC’s “revolutionary tribunals” and sanctioned.25 Recent reports from intelligence sources suggest that he has been rehabilitated and brought back into the fold to rebuild finances by bloc commander Mauricio Jaramillo.

Due to the Eastern Bloc’s involvement in the drug trade, alliances with the BACRIM, and dispersed nature, there are some elements of the bloc that are highly vulnerable to breaking away from the movement and, perhaps, criminalizing. Control of coca crops and routes into both Venezuela and Brazil, as well as contacts with the BACRIM (the remnants of the Popular Revolutionary Anti-Terrorist Army of Colombia – Ejercito Revolucionario Popular Antiterrorista Colombiano – ERPAC) and Brazilian groups all feed a high risk of criminalization in the second and third fragmentation scenarios.

Southern Bloc

The second most powerful fighting division of the FARC after the Eastern Bloc, the Southern Bloc, is also without a representative at the Havana peace talks. This stands in stark contrast to the 1999 peace process, when the two top commanders of the bloc, Milton de Jesus Toncel Redondo, alias “Joaquin Gomez” and Jose Benito Cabrera Cuevas, alias “Fabian Ramirez” were lead negotiators.

These two commanders are still in charge of the Southern Bloc, and as a consequence, it is one of the best-led and most disciplined fighting divisions in the rebel army. Joaquin Gomez, who is a member of the Secretariat, was educated in the Soviet Union, and is a diehard Marxist-Leninist. He belongs to the more orthodox wing of the FARC, has a very strong military reputation within the rebel army, and would be unlikely to agree to anything other than a generous peace agreement that resolved the majority of FARC demands.

Unlike the Eastern Bloc, the Southern Bloc has continued to engage in a high number of hostilities directed against the security forces and oil infrastructure and assets.

The Southern Bloc is also deeply involved in drug trafficking. Its 48th Front, based along the border with Ecuador, handles large quantities of cocaine, and may well have direct ties to Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, which has operatives in the Ecuadorean province of Sucumbios.26

Despite their deep involvement in the drug trade, and their links to Mexican drug traffickers, it is not likely that elements of the Southern Bloc will break off from the movement. The greatest risk here would be in scenario two, in which the leadership of this bloc could resist an agreement if it does not satisfy the more diehard elements of the FARC. Sources close to the Southern Bloc command have stated that this FARC fighting division is continuing its long term planning and military operations, and has little interest in what is happening in Havana.27

The Joint Western Command (Comando Conjunto de Occidente, now also called “Bloque Alfonso Cano”)

This is the FARC fighting division that is currently most active militarily, engaging in daily combat with the security forces along the Pacific coast and the Western Cordillera (Andes mountain range). Under the command of Jorge Torres Victoria, alias “Pablo Catatumbo” (pictured left) who was the right-hand man of FARC commander-in-chief Alfonso Cano until his death, this bloc has access to drug crops in Cauca, Nariño, Valle del Cauca and the south of Choco, as well as innumerable departure points along the Pacific coast. In addition to dealing in coca and cocaine, it is also believed to earn money from marijuana and heroin.

There are two highly prolific drug trafficking fronts in this Bloc, the 29th and the 30th. The 30th Front is based around the biggest port on the Pacific coast, Buenaventura. The 29th Front, operating in Nariño, sits astride some of the densest coca cultivations in the country. The powerful 6th Front, meanwhile, is believed to handle large quantities of marijuana, both for domestic consumption and for export to Venezuela.28

This bloc is at high risk of criminalization or fragmentation. The head of the 6th Front, Miguel Angel Pascuas Santos, alias “Sargento Pascuas” is one of the last surviving “Marquetalians,” the rebels who were with Manuel Marulanda when the army attacked the town of Marquetalia in Tolima in 1964, giving birth to the FARC. Getting this historic and hardline figure on board with any peace agreement would be crucial. He holds legendary status in the FARC, and the 6th Front is one of the militarily most active and aggressive in all of Colombia. Should he not be won over by the agreement, the prospects of a breakaway faction forming would be greatly increased in Cauca. Due to links to drug trafficking and gold mining, it is very likely that rebel elements would criminalize in scenario three, after demobilization, in the departments of Nariño, Valle del Cauca and Cauca.

The Joint Central Command (Comando Conjunto Central, also known as “Adan Izquierdo Bloc”)

This bloc, along with the Caribbean bloc, is very weak. Leading up to the death of Alfonso Cano in November 2011, the bloc took heavy losses as the army hunted for Cano and hammered the units that were protecting him. Now the bloc is largely restricted to the south of the Tolima department, and relies almost exclusively on extortion to finance itself, although one report indicated that the 21st Front was selling marijuana to local markets.29

The bloc now numbers perhaps 400 fighters. Due to the leadership of Alfonso Cano, this was traditionally one of the more ideologically committed blocs in the FARC, engaging in sustained political work with local communities in Tolima.

The Joint Central Command is unlikely to criminalize, but will certainly be looking for a generous peace agreement, one that justifies the death of Alfonso Cano and satisfies the hard core FARC fighters in the area where the movement was born in 1964. This bloc is at risk of continuing the armed struggle if it believes that a “dishonorable” peace agreement in signed with the government.


  1. Público, “Siempre será posible construir escenarios de negociación con el Gobierno”, 11 June 2011. Available at:
  2. InSight Crime interviews with US Embassy officials, Bogota, January 2013.
  3. Cambio, “Los cultivos de las FARC”, 13 March 2002. Available at:
  4. International Crisis Group, “War and Drugs in Colombia”, 27 January 2005. Available at:
  5. Ibid
  6. Associated Press, “Colombian official ties FARC to Mexican drug cartels”, 7 October 2008. Available at:
  7. InSight Crime carried out field research in Putumayo in December 2012, investigating the drug trade and the FARC’s 48th Front.
  8. InSight Crime, “New Colombian Addition to ‘Kingpin List’ Paid Off FARC in Venezuela”, 26 February 2013. Available at: /news/briefs/colombian-addition-kingpin-list-farc-role-trafficking
  9. InSight Crime carried out field research in northern Colombia and Panama in November and December 2012.
  10. Reuters, “Panama’s Police Kill FARC Guerrilla, Capture 7 on Colombia Border”, November 30, 2012.
  11. BBC News, “Farc’s Drug Submarine Seized in Colombia”, 25 September 2011. Available at:
  12. El Mundo, “Golpeada alianza Farc Bacrim”, 2 August 2010. Available at:
  13. Semana, “Presunta alianza entre FARC y Bacrim revela Mindefensa”, 23 March 2011. Available at:
  14. Army News Service, “En una cocina artesanal capturados miembros de Bacrim y Farc”, 28 February 2013. Available at:
  15. El Tiempo, “Alianza entre Farc y ‘Rastrojos’ estaría detrás del atentado en Tumaco”, 1 February 2012. Available at:
  16. El Tiempo, “Siniestra alianza Farc, Eln y Bacrim azota municipios del Catatumbo”, 21 January 2012. Available at:
  17. RCN, “La U denuncia que en el Meta se aliaron Farc y bacrim para controlar el narcotráfico”, 15 May 2011. Available at:
  18. El Colombiano, “Capturado jefe de “Los Rastrojos” que servía de enlace con las Farc”, 22 November 2010. Available at:
  19. El Tiempo, “‘Los Rastrojos’ arrendaban laboratorios de las Farc”, 3 April 2010. Available at:
  20. InSight Crime spent seven weeks in the region in 2012.
  21. El Liberal, “Incautan arsenal de las Farc y Los Rastrojos”, 25 April 2012. Available at:
  22. Verdad Abierta, “No tenemos alianzas con BACRIM: vocero de las FARC”, 21 December 2012. Available at:
  23. See InSight Crime, “Cartel de los Soles Profile.” Available at: /groups-venezuela/cartel-de-los-soles
  24. El Tiempo, “Géner García Molina, alias ‘Jhon 40’, el gran narco de las Farc”, 5 December 2012. Available at:
  25. El Tiempo, “‘John 40’, pasó de ser un capo de las Farc a ser prisionero de la guerrilla”, September 11, 2010. Available at:
  26. InSight Crime investigations in Putumayo, Colombia, December 2012.
  27. Interview in Bogota, 16 May, 2013
  28. El Pais, “Destruyen invernadero del Sexto Frente de las Farc en montañas de Corinto”, January 11, 2012.
  29. El Espectador, ” Policía halla enterrada una tonelada de marihuana”, 6 February 2013. Available at:

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Jeremy McDermott is co-founder and co-director of InSight Crime. McDermott has more than two decades of experience reporting from around Latin America. He is a former British Army officer, who saw active...

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