Authorities in Colombia have dismantled a subterranean drug laboratory in one of the country’s most strategic drug trafficking regions, suggesting that there is growing sophistication and innovation among crime groups made up of dissident FARC members operating there.
The anti-narcotics division of Colombia’s army on May 21 dismantled a laboratory with underground tunnels designed to produce cocaine hydrochloride in a rural village in the municipality of Tumaco in the southwestern department of Nariño, according to a military press release.
Authorities have linked the laboratory to the Oliver Sinisterra front, led by Ecuadorean national Walter Arizala Vernaza, alias “Guacho.” Guacho is a dissident of the largely demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) and his ex-FARC mafia group was recently linked to the kidnapping and murder of three Ecuadorean press workers along the Colombia-Ecuador border.
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According to the press release, the laboratory contained six structures and featured 330 gallons of gasoline, several industrial heaters and various other precursor chemicals used to make cocaine. Authorities valued the lab at more than 800 million pesos (around $284,000).
The laboratory was capable of producing two tons of cocaine per month and was one of the most sophisticated operations that authorities have seen, according to El Tiempo.
Nariño is ground zero of the global cocaine trade and Colombia’s main coca-producing area, according to a 2017 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
InSight Crime Analysis
Criminal groups made up of FARC dissidents are gaining strength throughout Colombia, and the dismantling of a subterranean drug-producing laboratory suggests that these groups are using new and increasingly sophisticated methods, and investing more resources, to evade authorities.
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According to field research conducted by InSight Crime on the new generation of drug traffickers in Colombia’s post-FARC era, these ex-FARC mafia criminal networks are employing new drug-producing techniques in order to evade authorities. For example, InSight Crime found that armed groups are now contracting third parties to run mobile labs that are destroyed and moved to another location after the work is done.
*This article was written with assistance from Sergio Saffon.