Drug seizures along Colombia’s Pacific coast have shot up this year, indicating a possible shift in internal drug trafficking routes as security crackdowns and peace negotiations reshape the country’s underworld.
Between January and May 2016, authorities seized 34 tons of drugs — worth around $1 billion — in Colombia’s Pacific region, according to official figures reported by Colprensa. Seizures have reportedly increased by 65 percent compared to the same time period last year.
Local marines were responsible for seizing 15 tons, up from the 6.1 tons they confiscated during the first five months of 2015, Commander of the Pacific Naval Force Pablo Guevara said.
The remaining drugs were reportedly seized with the collaboration of other countries, including the United States. The Urabeños criminal organization are among those hardest hit by the interdiction operations in the Pacific, according to authorities.
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The Navy attributed the increase in seizures to improved intelligence and training, while recognizing that a rise in drug crops in the area was also a factor.
“There has been an increase in illicit cultivations in [the department of] Putumayo and the Pacific, due to suspended aerial fumigation and manual eradication,” Guevara said.
Five semi-submersibles, also known as “narco-submarines,” were discovered in the Pacific region over the same time period. According to Mexico’s El Universal, a total of seven semi-submersibles have been taken out of circulation so far this year in Colombia, all of which belonged to the Urabeños.
InSight Crime Analysis
Although the increasing efficiency of interdiction efforts along the Pacific may partly explain the rise in seizures, this trend is more likely the result of a phenomenon known as the “balloon effect” in which criminal groups migrate from one area to another as a result of increased pressure from the authorities.
Colombia’s largest drug trafficking organization, the Urabeños, have come under intense pressure in their traditional stronghold of Urabá on the Caribbean coast. In February 2015, the government launched “Operation Agamemnon” and deployed over a thousand troops to the group’s main drug trafficking hub.
In just the Pacific department of Chocó — where a number of the most recent cocaine seizures have taken place — there are several active fronts of the country’s two principal guerrilla groups, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) and the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN). The region has already seen clashes between the Urabeños and the ELN, which have led to the displacement of thousands of locals.
In Nariño, too, drug trafficking organizations have been fighting the FARC, who control the drug trade in the department. Nariño is one of the biggest coca producers in the country and a key departure point for drugs heading to the United States. According to Diálogo, Nariño’s Sanquianga Park is the most popular launching pad for Colombia’s narco-submarines.
There have also been reports of clashes between the ELN and criminal bands, or “BACRIM,” in the Pacific department of Cauca.