Authorities have arrested the leader of a criminal group whose operations in southwestern Colombia may become a model for elements of the FARC guerrillas that remain involved in drug trafficking.
On January 14, Colombian police captured Miguel Antonio Bastidas Bravo, alias "La Gárgola" or "Capo del Sur," in the southwestern city of Cali, reported El Tiempo.
According to El Espectador, Bastidas was the leader of a drug trafficking group known as "La Constru." He allegedly coordinated cocaine shipments through the Colombian departments of Putumayo and Nariño, along the Pacific Coast, and on to Mexico. Authorities say he is responsible for the production and sale of 2,000 kilograms of cocaine per month.
Previously arrested in 2013, Bastidas has been on the run after managing to escape, reported Caracol. Among the charges he stands accused of are murder, conspiracy to commit drug trafficking, and arms trafficking.
InSight Crime Analysis
The Colombian government is entering the final stages of its peace negotiations with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC). Currently, talks are underway in Havana, Cuba over the final agenda point of ending the conflict and implementing a bilateral ceasefire. The goal is for a negotiated settlement by March 23.
One of the main concerns surrounding the government’s peace talks with the FARC, however, is the potential criminalization of certain FARC elements. The FARC has long been known to engage in the drug trade, although leaders routinely deny or downplay the extent of the group’s involvement.
Groups like the Constru, which is a former paramilitary outfit, are believed to work for the FARC: buying coca base from the guerrilla group, processing it into cocaine, and moving it along the coast or into Ecuador under FARC protection before ultimately selling it to Mexican drug groups. The majority of earned proceeds go to the FARC, helping to fund its operations.
Such a model helps the FARC maintain deniability regarding its involvement in the drug trade. One possibility is that even in a post-conflict Colombia, elements of the FARC would seek to maintain relationships with groups like the Constru. Such a phenomenon will like stir great controversy, especially if other factions of the FARC form a political party and become involved in mainstream Colombian politics.