The arrest of a police colonel in Colombia who allegedly directed a criminal network involved in large-scale international drug trafficking has highlighted the intimate links between corrupt high-level officials and the country's drug trade.
On October 30, Colonel Nestor Enrique Maestre Ponce was arrested in a joint operation by US and Colombian counter-narcotics officials in Bogota, reported El Tiempo. According to evidence collected by intelligence officials, Maestre -- a former regional anti-narcotics chief -- led a network of corrupt police officials and civilians that "contaminated" containers leaving the port city of Cartagena with drugs destined for European and US markets, reported El Espectador.
Maestre is accused of protecting a seven-ton shipment of cocaine that was seized by authorities in April -- one of the biggest cocaine seizures in recent years in Colombia. The drug shipment reportedly belonged to the BACRIM (from the Spanish term for "criminal bands") group the Urabeños, indicating Maestre had close ties to the criminal organization.
Two more anti-narcotics officials and seven other alleged members of the criminal network were also captured during the operation, according to El Tiempo.
InSight Crime Analysis
The arrest of a police colonel for his alleged involvement in large-scale drug trafficking brings to light some obstacles in Colombia's efforts to reduce the influence and power of its drug trafficking groups. First, it highlights the continued role of high-level official corruption in facilitating the drug trade. According to El Tiempo, the Maestre arrest came as a shock to the leadership in Colombia's police forces, who thought they had taken the necessary steps to prevent more corruption scandals involving high-ranking security officials linked to drug trafficking.
Second, the seven-ton cocaine seizure in April revealed that Colombia's criminal groups still have the logistical capacity -- as well as the ability to coopt officials -- needed to traffic vast quantities of drugs to international markets. Since the arrest of Daniel "El Loco" Barrera in September 2012, no one drug capo has emerged in Colombia with the geographical reach and international contacts needed to orchestrate multi-ton drug shipments to foreign markets. However, the recent seizure suggests the Urabeños now has the organizational structure needed to do so.
SEE ALSO: Urabeños News and Profile
Notably, Cartagena was the primary headquarters of the Oficina de Envigado's leader Maximiliano Bonilla Orozco, alias "Valenciano," until his capture in November 2011. His arrest -- and the absorption of many of his former employees into the Urabeños network -- gave this BACRIM a near monopoly on international drug trafficking in Cartagena.