Authorities in Colombia have captured members of a narco-paramilitary group attempting to set up in the Amazon border region, undermining previous official declarations that the groups known as the BACRIM have no presence in this area.
On May 19, Colombian police arrested nine men who allegedly work for Martin Farfan Diaz, alias "Pijarbey," the leader of a criminal group that splintered off from the paramilitary organization the Popular Revolutionary Anti-Terrorist Army of Colombia (ERPAC).
Authorities believe Pijarbey sent these men to the department of Amazonas in 2013 to establish a drug trafficking route, reported El Tiempo. Pijarbey's emissaries allegedly fought one of the region's preeminent criminal groups, the Caqueteños, for control of the region. The battle left twelve dead, before Pijarbey's men were captured.
An ex-deputy, Pedro Arturo Sinisterra alias "Peter," was among those arrested. Police believe Sinisterra ran the organization's "oficina de cobro," charging and receiving money for drug shipments, and obtained chemical precursors for cocaine laboratories.
Pijarbey also worked with three Brazilian drug traffickers on the border area, bringing cocaine from Peru to the Colombian city of Leticia and sending it on to Brazil. Although Pijarbey's operation began less than a year ago, his group reportedly had the ability to produce one-and-a-half tons of cocaine every month.
InSight Crime Analysis
The tri-border region formed by Colombia, Peru and Brazil has long been used by traffickers to produce and transport cocaine. Coca leaves are usually grown and processed in Peru and then moved through Colombia into Brazil, taking advantage of holes in border security.
When InSight Crime conducted an investigation in this region in March, authorities reported that paramilitary successor groups known as BACRIM (from the Spanish abbreviation for "criminal bands") did not have a presence in Amazonas. A report published by Colombian NGO Indepaz in 2013 (pdf) also stated that there were no BACRIM groups present as late as 2012.
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Although the security situation in Leticia -- the capital of Amazonas -- has improved markedly since the 1980s, these recent arrests indicate that at least one BACRIM has moved into the area. The capture of ex-deputy Sinisterra in conjunction with Pijarbey's incursion also indicates a level of official complicity in facilitating the move.
What remains to be seen is whether these arrests succeed in halting the BACRIM advance, or whether the ERPAC splinter or other groups persist in their attempts to control this drug trafficking corridor.