Authorities in Colombia have captured the commander of the FARC's 30th Front and alleged head of the group's Pacific coast drug operations in a blow to a powerful guerrilla unit already capitalizing on its criminal potential.
Colombia's judicial police (DIJIN) detained Martin Leonel Perez Castro, alias "Richard" in one of his luxurious country homes in the southwestern Valle del Cauca department on July 20, reported El Tiempo.
According to Colombia's Defense Ministry, Perez, also known as "El Capo", became head of the 30th Front in 2011 and was responsible for managing around 60 percent of the FARC's drug trafficking-related income, and for reinvesting profits in arms purchases.
According to El Tiempo, Perez coordinated drug-related operations while based in jungle encampments in the Cauca department. These included charging drug traffickers "vacunas" (vaccination) -- in the form of a tax of approximately $250 per kilo trafficked through the area -- and overseeing coca cultivation, cocaine processing and trafficking to Panama and other Central American nations.
The unit commander reportedly formerly worked with the BACRIM (for the Spanish for criminal band) group the Rastrojos, but when they went into decline he established his own trafficking operations through direct contacts with Mexican cartels, according to El Tiempo. This involved purchasing their own go-fast boats for transport, but also forcing traffickers to carry FARC shipments along with their own loads.
Insight Crime Analysis
Perez's activities and the alliances he reportedly built serve to illustrate the evolution of the FARC's involvement in the drug trade, progressing from taxing drug traffickers operating in FARC territory to establishing control over production and finally to running their own trafficking routes.
The details emerging of Perez's operations add to a weight of evidence indicating the 30th Front are one of the most heavily criminalized FARC units with extensive drug trade operations. Earlier this year, the head of the Pacific region Coast Guard told InSight Crime that in some parts of the region the line between the 30th Front and Colombia's most powerful criminal group, the "Urabeños," is now so blurred that security forces consider them to operate as practically one organization.
SEE ALSO: FARC, Peace and Possible Criminalization
Although the drug trade has funded much of the FARC's armed struggle, the central command has only admitting to charging taxes on drug trafficking activities and insists the FARC are not a drug trafficking organization. While this may remain true in some parts of Colombia, Perez and the 30th Front illustrate just how far certain FARC units have moved away from the command's rhetoric. And it is these units that are the prime candidates for criminalization should the peace talks currently underway result in the guerrillas demobilizing.