Colombian authorities discovered 12 tons of cocaine in a container headed for Mexico, most likely a shipment from Colombia’s Rastrojos to a Mexican cartel, while police simultaneously seized $2.8 million in cash, believed to be payment for a previous drug consignment.
The cocaine, seized in the Caribbean port of Cartagena, was mixed with brown sugar, but detected by sniffer dogs. There were between 12 and 16 tons of the drug in the shipment, said the head of naval operations, Admiral Roberto Garcia Marquez. The exact amount will only be determined once chemists have finished analyzing the percentage of cocaine to sugar in the 33,450 blocks found in the container.
The sugar came from Valle Del Cauca, the stronghold of the Rastrojos, one of Colombia’s most powerful drug trafficking organizations. The anti-narcotics police believe the drug shipment belongs to Rastrojos boss Luis Enrique Calle Serna, alias "Comba."
The consignment was bound for Veracruz, Mexico’s largest port on the Caribbean. This has traditionally been an area under the influence of the Gulf Cartel or the Zetas, although the Rastrojos have been linked to the Sinaloa Cartel in the past. When $27 million was found in a container in the Colombian port of Buenventura in 2009, on a ship that had arrived from Mexico, police believed it was part of a payment for drugs that the Rastrojos had sent to the Sinaloa Cartel.
This haul is worth an estimated $360 million wholesale in the U.S., and its seizure represents a major blow to the drug trafficking organization behind the shipment. It is also one of the biggest interceptions of drugs in recent years, as traffickers now tend to move smaller shipments and often employ submarines, which are very difficult to detect. The last comparable seizure was in 2008, when 10.5 tons of cocaine were found in the nearby Caribbean port of Barranquilla.
The use of a Caribbean port, away from the Rastrojos' principal area of operations along the Pacific coast, may signal a switch back towards the Atlantic seaboard, or show that the Rastrojos have managed to gain a foothold in Cartagena.
While police in Cartagena were analyzing the cocaine-sugar mix, police at Bogota’s international airport intercepted a Mexican carrying $2.8 million in cash, thought to be a payment for a previous cocaine shipment. The captured man, Jesus Ochoa Lugo, is from the city of Culiacan in Sinaloa, and authorities believe that the money is from the Sinaloa Cartel and its leader Joaquin Guzman Loera, alias "El Chapo."
The Mexican cartels have taken a more prominent role in the regional drug trade over the last ten years. Whereas historically Colombian cartels controlled much of the traffic, from coca plant to street distribution, the Mexicans now have a stranglehold on the trade, at least to the U.S. market. Colombian groups now tend to sell their product to the Mexicans, who are responsible for smuggling it into the U.S.