The dismantling of an international drug trafficking ring led by a powerful Mexican cartel is yet another example of how their money fuels much of Colombia's drug business.
An investigation published by Noticias Caracol on November 11 reveals the details of how a Colombian operation led to the disarticulation of a drug trafficking network headed by the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación - CJNG) with links to Colombians and a pilot from the Venezuelan air force.
After a meeting took place in Bogotá with several Mexican drug cartel emissaries, Colombian authorities, in collaboration with the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), proceeded to capture several of its members.
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Among the main findings of this operation, codenamed Galeón, was the participation of Venezuelan Air Force captain Gino Alfonso Garcés Vergara. Garcés Vergara received $500,000 in payments for allowing aircrafts loaded with drugs to pass through Venezuelan airspace without being traced.
The responsibility of paying the Venezuelan pilot and his associates reportedly fell to a CJNG operative in Colombia, identified only as alias "Hamilton." A Colombian national based in the city of Villavicencio, he was responsible for coordinating the aircraft, routes and contacts to facilitate drug shipments from Venezuela to Central America.
Also among those captured during the operation was a man named Fabián Mauricio Ortiz Cañizares, alias "Rolex." Rolex’s role within the criminal organization was to receive the profits from US cocaine sales in Panama, launder them and invest the money in new shipments and businesses in the city of Cúcuta, located to the northeast of Colombia.
The presence of Mexican drug cartels in Colombia has increased since 2008, according to the Mexican magazine Proceso. But where the Sinaloa Cartel and Los Zetas were once the main Mexican players in the country, the CJNG has been on the rise.
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Operation Galeón serves as compelling evidence of the links between Mexican cartels, Colombian gangs and their Venezuelan counterparts while showing the importance groups like the CJNG play in the Colombian drug trade.
While there are numerous reports about the role played by Mexican cartels in Colombia, most of their presence in the country is through "emissaries," who close deals and ensure product quality before arranging for passage of drugs to North America. These emissaries directly represent the cartels and oversee the whole process, from the coca crops to the packaging of the cocaine, avoiding the use of middlemen.
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Local authorities in the Catatumbo region say the Mexicans control close to 80 percent of the region’s drug business.
“These guys arrive at our farms with their foreign accents and they offer us better prices, without caring what illegal armed groups are in the region. What we know is that the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN), the Popular Liberation Army (Ejército Popular de Liberación – EPL), the dissidents and the rest of the groups all receive money from them so that there won't be any issues,” one source in Catatumbo remarked to the newspaper La Opinión.
On the other hand, other cases exist like that of the CJNG’s secret meeting in Bogotá, where the emissaries meet with local groups in the capital to finalize transportation. While details of deals between specific Mexican and Colombian groups are hard to come by, in 2019, Mexican cartels have reportedly been tied to ex-FARC mafia elements in Norte de Santander and to clashes in Jamundí, Valle del Cauca.