Authorities in Colombia and the United States have broken up a synthetic drug trafficking network that reportedly supplied six countries in the region, indicating transnational criminal groups are beginning to capitalize on the increasing demand for this type of drug.
In an April 29 press release, Colombia's National Police announced the arrests of 18 alleged members of the trafficking network, known as "Los Pri," and the seizure of synthetic drugs and precursor chemicals that allegedly belonged to the group. The operations were carried out in several different parts of Colombia, including the island of San Andres and the cities of Cali and Medellin. The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) captured two of the group's leaders in Miami, according to the press release.
Colombian police believe Los Pri had a monopoly on the synthetic drug market in six countries. According to the press release, Los Pri allegedly distributed drugs within Colombia and sent shipments via air to Panama, Peru, and the United States, among other countries. One of the network's alleged leaders operated from a prison in Ecuador, coordinating synthetic drug sales in Ecuador, Peru, and Chile.
The head of the network's operations in Colombia, alias "Chon," was arrested in a luxury residence in the city of Cali. In order to manufacture his product, Chon imported the synthetic drug MDMA from Belgium, Holland, and England, and mixed it with caffeine, methamphetamine, and ketamine, a horse tranquilizer, according to police.
InSight Crime Analysis
Los Pri appears to be among the first dismantled criminal groups in the region dedicated to high-volume synthetic drug trafficking at the international level. Colombian police captured the country's synthetic drug "czar" in March 2014, and linked a massacre that took place in Cali last October to criminal groups battling for control of the city's synthetic drug trade. However, until now there has been little evidence of synthetic drug trafficking groups in Colombia or elsewhere in Latin America supplying numerous countries in the region, as well as the United States.
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The rise of sophisticated transnational synthetic drug trafficking organizations makes sense given the growing popularity of this class of drugs throughout much of Latin America. A 2014 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) indicated that consumption of synthetic drugs such as ecstasy is increasing in many parts of Central and South America, particularly in Brazil and Argentina. Similarly, in 2013 Colombia's then national police director went so far as to say that in Colombia, synthetic drugs were "replacing cocaine." According to a 2013 study on illicit drug consumption, 7.5 percent of the Colombian population had experimented with some type of synthetic drug, reported El Espectador.