Colombia officials announced a joint international effort with U.S. officials intending to locate three middlemen allegedly working for Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin Guzman Loera, alias ‘El Chapo,’ in Colombia. The statement follows allegations by Colombia’s chief of police that the Sinaloa Cartel is now working alongside the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) in the illegal exploitation of coltan, a highly prized mineral used in the electronics industry.
The announcements raises significant concerns that the Sinaloa Cartel is continuing to expand its tentacles into South America, following reports about the presence of cartel operatives in Peru and Ecuador. Despite the arrests of local intermediaries working for Guzman Loera in the Andean region, it is likely the powerful cartel will continue to seek new transit points throughout the Americas, as well as expand into new businesses like coltan trafficking in order to complement the drug trade.
Such is the case involving the hunt for the Cifuentes Villa siblings Jorge Milton, Dolly de Jesus and Hildebrando Alexander in Colombia, who are accused of acting as associates for the Sinaloa Cartel.
Interpol has issued “red notices” for the three suspects, while an order for their extradition on charges of money laundering and drug trafficking is pending in the Southern District of Florida Court, Colombian newsweekly Semana reported Monday.
In an effort to control assets believed to be linked to the Sinaloa Cartel, 45 companies belonging to the Cifuentes Villa family have been placed on the U.S. Treasury Department’s “Kingpin List.” The list identifies businesses linked to drug traffickers who are thus prohibited from doing business with U.S. companies.
According to investigations, reports Semana, the three suspects inheirited the illegal business run by their brother Francisco Cifuentes Villa, alias ‘Pancho Cifuentes,’ who once worked for Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar.
In another reflection of the growing expansion of the Sinaloa Cartel in Colombia, Director of the Colombian Police Oscar Naranjo Trujillo stated Monday that the FARC and the Sinaloa Cartel are working together in the unlicensed exploitation of coltan in Colombia. Coltan is a mineral from which tantalum is extracted, and is used in the creation of electronics such as cell phones and computer parts.
There are indications that the FARC has taken control of this trade in parts of Vichada and Guainia, operating mines along the Colombia-Venezuela border. Selling the mineral creates an extra source of income for drug traffickers, and has already become a key source of finances for the FARC similarly to the way illicit gold mining is propping up the rebels in the more northern departments of Antioquia and Bolivar.
If the Sinaloa Cartel is working alongside the FARC in the coltan trade, this is not the first sign of cooperation between the two organizations. In December, a computer confiscated from the FARC’s Southern Bloc commander Jose Benito Cabrera, alias ‘Fabian Ramirez,’ reportedly contained information speaking of a business alliance with the Mexicans. The computer files allegedly spoke of a middleman, Mario Sanchez Zavaleta, serving as the Bloc’s link to the Sinaloa Cartel.
More links between Colombian drug traffickers and the Sinaloans were made evident last month with the arrest of Julio Enrique Ayala Muñoz, alias ‘El Condor,’ who reportedly served as the primary intermediary between the Rastrojos and the Sinaloa Cartel.
The influence of the Sinaloa Cartel has increasingly expanded beyond Mexico and has infiltrated other countries in Central and South America. Last week, officials in Costa Rica confiscated 300 kilograms of cocaine and arrested three suspects allegedly working for the Sinaloa Cartel.