Colombia has destroyed over 100 cocaine laboratories and stripped a FARC faction of $10 million in potential earnings, exposing the huge criminal finances that promise to keep many guerrilla fighters in the field even if a peace deal is reached in the near future.
Colombian police have destroyed 104 clandestine laboratories capable of producing over 75 metric tons of cocaine per year in the remote eastern region of Guaviare department.
The structures were run by the 1st Front (or "Armando Ríos" Front) of guerrilla organization the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC), Caracol Radio reported after visiting the jungle region. The FARC faction would have allegedly earned around $10 million from the laboratories over the course of the year.
During the five-day operation, 120 members of the Anti-Narcotics Police and Air Force seized 1.7 metric tons of coca base, 38 metric tons of coca leaf, 5.5 metric tons of chemicals and 16,000 gallons of gasoline, ingredients essential for making cocaine.
Caracol Radio reported that local coca farmers were forced to sell their product to the guerrilla group. For every kilogram of cocaine sold, the front's leadership received 150 grams' worth of the profits. From Guaviare, the cocaine was smuggled into Venezuela and Brazil before being trafficked around the world, according to the police.
In northern Guaviare, the 1st Front has business deals with Brazilian, Peruvian and Venezuelan drug trafficking groups, as well as the Colombian organizations known as the Urabeños and the Puntilleros -- the latter referring to former paramilitary groups operating in the country's Eastern Plains region.
Caracol Radio added that the value of coca base in Guaviare surged from $161 per kilogram to $805 following the police operation, and will continue to rise.
The bust is part of new government strategy that aims to weaken the early production stages of the drug suply chain, reported Reuters.
InSight Crime Analysis
The 1st Front has been emblematic of the problems the FARC's criminal empire pose as the guerrilla group nears a final peace agreement with the Colombian government. In July 2016, the faction declared that it would ignore eventual orders to demobilize, claiming its insurgents would continue "fighting to seize power for the people."
But this huge seizure is strong proof that -- as had been widely suggested -- the 1st Front's resistance to the peace process has more to do with the criminal profits it would lose out on rather than an ideological struggle.
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Following the 1st Front's announcement, specialists pointed out that the group makes a significant amount of money from drug crop cultivation, laboratories and trafficking routes into Venezuela, as well as illegal mining. The FARC leadership was quick to distance itself from the breakaway faction, stating that it was using "political arguments with the aim of disguising the clear influence of financial interests that are averse to the end of the conflict."
The bust may also serve as a show of state force against other dissident factions of the rebel group. President Juan Manuel Santos has repeatedly said that the only options for fighters who refuse to demobilize will be prison or the grave.