Authorities have attributed a multi-ton seizure of marijuana to the FARC's 6th Front, indications the Colombian rebel unit is prominently involved in trafficking this drug as well as cocaine, despite the recent loss of top leaders and the ongoing peace talks.
On March 30, Colombian authorities announced the seizure of 4.1 tons of marijuana belonging to the 6th Front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), reported El Espectador. Members of Colombian security forces confiscated the illegal drug shipment in the rural town of Corinto in the southwest department of Cauca, according to AFP.
Three hundred sixty kilos of the seized marijuana was found to be “creepy,” a potent strain that is more expensive than normal classes of the drug. Cauca is the epicenter of creepy production in Colombia, and is also the base of operations for the FARC's 6th Front. Cauca is one of the FARC's most strategic drug trafficking corridors, and the incursion of other illegal armed groups in the region has generated high levels of violence in recent years.
How the 6th Front Cornered the Marijuana Market
The 6th Front is led by legendary figure Miguel Angel Pascuas Santos, alias “Sargento Pascuas,” one of the last surviving original founders of the FARC from the 1960s. Under Sargento Pascuas' leadership, the 6th Front became one of the FARC's most militant fighting divisions. Police have accused the front of at least 85 acts of terrorism against Colombia's security forces and civilian population.
While the FARC are well-known for their involvement in Colombia's cocaine trade, for years the 6th Front has profited off marijuana. In 2011, experts claimed the FARC had become the most prolific marijuana traffickers in Colombia, thanks in large part to the 6th Front.
In 2013, intelligence information from demobilized FARC elements suggested the front had stepped up its operations by directly cultivating and selling marijuana. That year, authorities discovered six marijuana plantations belonging to the 6th Front in the same town where security forces made the recent four-ton seizure.
Much of the 6th Front's product is likely destined for Colombia's growing domestic drug market, which consumes 70 percent of all marijuana produced in the country. However, some of the marijuana -- most likely the creepy strain -- is also reportedly destined for Venezuela and Ecuador, as well as the port city of Buenaventura, where it could be exported to nearly anywhere in the world.
SEE ALSO: FARC News and Profile
The 6th Front has reportedly made guns-for-drugs deals with criminal organization the Rastrojos, and the generation of drug trafficking syndicates, the BACRIM (from the Spanish, “bandas criminales”), are likely principal purchasers of FARC marijuana. However, it remains unclear if the 6th Front has become involved in activities higher up the drug supply chain such as transportation or exportation, which would significantly increase their profits.
Colombian security forces have dealt the 6th Front a number of blows in recent years, most notably the killing of the front's former acting leader, “El Burro,” and third-in-command, “Jamito,” in 2013. With Sargento Pascuas in Cuba participating in peace talks with the government, the 6th Front is likely experiencing a dearth in leadership. Nevertheless, the recent multi-ton seizure suggests the 6th Front remains an important player in Colombia's marijuana trade.
The 6th Front is part of the Joint Western Command, run by Jorge Torres Victoria, alias "Pablo Catatumbo," one of the rebels' principal negotiators in Havana. This bloc is active in the Pacific departments of Cauca, Nariño, and Valle del Cauca, where it has access to dense areas of coca crops and is reportedly involved in heroin, marijuana, and cocaine trafficking.
As Prospect of Peace Nears, Question of Criminalization Resurfaces
A special investigation by InSight Crime in 2013 found the Joint Western Command to be one of the blocs most prone to criminalization in the event the FARC reach a peace deal with the government. It is likely some rebel elements would continue conducting criminal activities either during or after the demobilization process thanks to the high profits from drug trafficking and illegal mining.
SEE ALSO: The FARC's Possible Criminalization
However, much depends on the 6th Front's top commander, Sargento Pascuas. As one of the most experienced FARC leaders, he possess a great deal of influence, and his blessing of a future peace agreement would be a significant counterweight to elements in favor of criminalizing. If he does not give his approval, the possibility of a faction in Cauca splintering off from the FARC in a post-conflict situation would greatly increase.
It is worth noting that the 6th Front's ongoing involvement in marijuana trafficking offers little indication of how the unit is leaning in terms of criminalization. As InSight Crime has previously pointed out, the FARC may currently be looking to maximize their profits before a peace deal is signed, after which they would no longer be able to rely on drug trafficking for income. If no peace agreement is reached, the FARC want to make sure they still have access to criminal revenue streams in order to finance their armed conflict. Whether the FARC start a new chapter in their history and become a recognized political entity or they choose to remain as a guerrilla group, they will need plenty of money.