Two members of the Colombian army were arrested after they were caught transporting 410 kilos of cocaine in the southwestern department of Valle, an incident that is likely raise further questions about ties between the military and the drug trade.
National newspaper El Tiempo reported that a soldier and a lieutenant were arrested early morning January 17 by police at a road checkpoint. The police, who were tipped off about the smuggling, searched the vehicle and found nearly half a ton of cocaine packaged into one-kilo packets. The soldier and the lieutenant were taken into custody.
Investigators involved in the case believed the suspects were moving the drug shipment to the Pacific coast, which, along with Valle department, is traditionally the territory of the Rastrojos drug gang. However, recently a rival criminal group, the Urabeños, have gained footing in the region. El Tiempo notes that the final destination of the cocaine could have also been capital city Bogota.
This is the third case within a month involving members of the army transporting illicit drugs, all of them concentrated in Colombia's southwest. In December, a major was caught smuggling 59 kilos of marijuana when stopped at a police checkpoint, also in Valle. In another incident, a military plane that took off from Cauca -- the province next to Valle and the current epicenter of fighting with the guerrilla group of the FARC -- landed in an air base in central Colombia with a 25-kilo marijuana shipment.
The Army Inspector General has denied that these cases are related, adding that that no larger trafficking network exists within the institution and that these are isolated incidents.
InSight Crime Analysis
Drug trafficking organizations like the Rastrojos and the Urabeños frequently rely on connections with the security forces in order to transport narcotics within Colombia and overseas. Last year, 13 members of the military were charged with drug trafficking, according to El Tiempo's count.
While this latest case of corruption involves two relatively low-ranking members of the military, it does raise questions over whether there is in fact a larger drug trafficking network within the armed forces, at least within Colombia's southwest. A report published in December by newspaper El Pais quoted one unnamed army major who said that both generals and colonels were involved in the drug trade. In one notable corruption case, the army's former intelligence head was charged with laundering up to $2 million dollars for a drug trafficking ring.
With current plans to increase the size of the armed forces by 25,000 troops, Colombia will likely face increased challenges to root out corruption both in the lower and upper-ranks of the military.