Authorities in Panama say they have dismantled a criminal network run by Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel and Colombia's FARC guerrillas, offering further evidence of how the Mexican criminal group has built ties with Colombian rebels in order to advance their drug trafficking interests.
Panamanian Security Minister Rodolfo Aguilera and National Police Commissioner Omar Pinzon told media that Colombian and Mexican police have broken up a criminal network involving the Sinaloa Cartel and the 30th Front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), reported the BBC.
The investigation into the criminal network began 18 months ago and has resulted in the seizure of half a ton of cocaine, several vehicles and properties, and the arrests of 50 people, reported EFE.
According to the officials, the key link between the Sinaloa Cartel and the FARC was a Mexican couple living in Panama. Officials also commented that the criminal network was led by Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.
InSight Crime Analysis
The Panama-based network provides the latest evidence that the Sinaloa Cartel is seeking to expand its influence in Colombia and assert more control over the downstream supply of cocaine.
Numerous cases suggest the Mexicans see the FARC as a crucial part of this strategy. In many ways, the rebels make for ideal partners as they monopolize control of coca crops and coca base in areas they control and thus can help the Mexicans access a supply right from the source.
Additionally, there is a strong possibility the guerrillas will demobilize next year. This opens up an opportunity for other criminal groups to take over the FARC's role in the drug trade. If the Sinaloa Cartel steps up and fills this gap, they would be able to assert more control over where and how they source cocaine shipments. Not only would this lead to higher profits for the Sinaloans, it would allow them to better control the quality and reliability of supply.
The FARC's 30th Front is active around the Pacific coast port city of Buenaventura, a major dispatch point for trafficking cocaine to Central America. Last year, there were numerous reports suggesting the Sinaloans were attempting to establish a presence in the city, and were even responsible for several murders. These latest reports add weight to reports that the troubled city is seen as an important territory for the cartel.
However, there must be some doubt over whether, as claimed, El Chapo personally oversaw the operations. There is a tendency among both the media and authorities to conflate any Sinaloa Cartel activity with the personal actions of its most visible leader, but as his recent stint in prison demonstrated, the cartel's operations appear to function smoothly without El Chapo's day to day involvement.