The Colombian military reportedly discovered a synthetic drug laboratory belonging to guerrilla group the FARC, which, if true, would indicate that the rebels are diversifying their illicit activities and moving into Latin America's expanding synthetic drug market.
Colombian troops recently found a laboratory that processed synthetic drugs and cocaine in the southwest department of Putumayo, reported El Tiempo. According to military officials, the drug lab was operated by 30 members of the 48th Front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
At the site, authorities discovered 1.5 tons of precursor chemicals, as well as evidence that the lab may have been used to produce up to three tons of cocaine every month, reported El Espectador. Authorities said the laboratory generated close to $11.7 million in drug profits per month for the rebel army. General Vaca Torres of the 27th Jungle Brigade noted about one-third of that illicit income came from the manufacturing of synthetic drugs such as ecstasy, reported El Colombiano.
Authorities also said the production of synthetic drugs indicates that the FARC are exploring new consumer markets, according to El Colombiano.
InSight Crime Analysis
If the FARC's 48th Front has become involved in the synthetic drug trade, it is likely an attempt to profit off increasing demand for synthetic drugs throughout much of the region, as authorities suggested. InSight Crime field research has found the FARC's 48th Front is already deeply involved in the drug trade in Putumayo, and could have direct links to Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel. This FARC unit is known to smuggle large quantities of coca and cocaine into Ecuador, where the Sinaloa Cartel has operatives in the northeast border province of Sucumbios.
SEE ALSO: FARC News and Profile
The FARC would certainly not be the first Colombian criminal group to take on a greater role in the synthetic drug trade. In October 2014, police attributed a massacre in the southwest city of Cali to a battle over synthetic drug trafficking routes. Last April, authorities dismantled what appears to be among the first Colombian groups dedicated to the transnational synthetic drug trade.
The participation of a seemingly growing number of illegal armed groups in the synthetic drug trade may yet validate concerns that synthetic drugs may soon represent a security risk on par with traditional drugs such as cocaine. In March 2013, Colombia's then-National Police Director, Jose Roberto Leon Riaño, said that synthetic drugs were "replacing cocaine." In November that same year, General Ricardo Restrepo, Director of Colombia's anti-drug police, told Reuters that combating the synthetic drug trade "will be our next battle."