The capture of an alleged EPL financier in Catatumbo, Colombia could be a major setback for the guerrilla group’s operations in the country's principal drug producing region.
The National Police announced the capture of Javier Gutiérrez Blanco, alias "Loro," on May 31 in Ocaña, Norte de Santander, reported Caracol. Officials characterized Gutiérrez as a link between the Popular Liberation Army (Ejército Popular de Liberación - EPL) and Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel.
“This person controlled the traffic, the flow of the processed cocaine and was in charge of its commercialization, which is the biggest source of financing for guerrilla groups that are criminally active in Catatumbo,” police Gen. Jaime Vega told Caracol.
Vega said Gutiérrez is believed to operate at least eight drug laboratories for producing coca base and several more for refining it into cocaine along Colombia’s border with Venezuela. These laboratories reportedly had the capacity to produce about one ton of cocaine each month.
Vega said Gutiérrez is wanted in the city of Cúcuta on charges of drug trafficking and carrying a weapon without a license. He is also under investigation for homicide.
InSight Crime Analysis
The capture of this alleged link to Mexican drug trafficking organizations could disrupt the plans of Jader Navarro Barbosa, alias "Caracho," who is thought to be consolidating his control over the EPL after its former leader, Victor Ramon Navarro Serrano, alias "Megateo," was killed in July 2015. The purported ties to the Sinaloa Cartel may signal the EPL's ambitions to expand its role in the drug trade.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of EPL
Colombia’s Catatumbo region is one of the principal cocaine producing areas in the world. Production has reportedly increased there following the government’s decision to ban the aerial spraying of glyphosate on coca crops. The region's proximity to Venezuela allows for cheap access to the gasoline needed to refine coca paste into cocaine and easy entrance into Venezuela’s shipping corridors.
Catatumbo’s privileged geography combined with a potential demobilization of Colombia’s biggest guerrilla group and coca regulator, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC), could help the EPL position itself as a major player in Colombia’s drug trade. The National Liberation Army (Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional - ELN), another guerrilla group active in the area, is also in the initial stages of establishing their own peace process with the Colombian government, so there could be ample opportunity for EPL expansion.