Panama announced the arrest of 80 members of a Colombian-led drug trafficking organization that moved cocaine from Central America to the United States via Panama’s Caribbean coast.
The arrests were reportedly the result of an investigation carried out by Panamanian authorities in collaboration with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Simultaneous raids at 30 locations netted 162 kilograms of cocaine, as well as firearms and vehicles. Eighty people were arrested, 61 of them Panamanian and 19 Colombian.
Colombian national Jose Indalecio Marmolejo Parra (above left) is suspected of heading the ring. A former associate of drug lord Pablo Escobar, Parra has been implicated in weapons and drug trafficking in Colombia and Costa Rica. Parra was arrested on gun charges in July and is under house arrest in Panama.
Panama’s Anti-Drug Prosecutor Javier Caraballo alleged that the group was responsible for transporting at least 18 tons of cocaine to the United States in the last two years, using Caribbean maritime routes. There is evidence that the trafficking network is involved with selling weapons to Colombia’s left-wing guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC), and is likely responsible for a number of murders in Panama City.
The operation to dismantle Parra’s trafficking network follows recent anti-narcotics successes by Panama authorities, including the seizure of several tons of liquid cocaine in July as well as a heroin shipment worth more than $70 million dollars.