A Colombian drug trafficker offered juicy details on his work during a remarkable interview that provides a panoramic view of Colombia's drug trade.
A captured drug trafficker known by the alias "Camilo," who spent nearly a decade coordinating cocaine shipments for some of Colombia's most powerful drug trafficking groups, recounted from personal experience the inner workings of the cocaine trade in an interview with El Tiempo published on November 2. Camilo spoke to the news outlet in Bogotá, where he is cooperating with Colombian authorities as part of a plea deal.
The former shipment coordinator said that the first step in the trafficking process consisted of being contacted by a client, usually an intermediary working for a large drug trafficking organization such as the Urabeños, who typically would solicit his help sending drugs to the United States or Europe.
Then, Camilo said, he would reach out to corrupt government contacts.
"I work with logistical operators from customs who tell me which containers will be available for a certain destination, at a certain date, with a certain route and with a specific vessel," he explained.
Camilo said he would then turn to his contacts within the anti-narcotic police to check whether the officers on duty that day could be bribed. He would also obtain confirmation that the company in whose containers the drugs were to be placed did not raise any flags that could warrant an unexpected security check. If so, the plan was redrawn.
If all went well, Camilo said, he would receive payment for his services via a money laundering scheme that operated through a chain of supermarkets. The store would receive payment for the drugs in euros or dollars, depending on where the shipment landed, and would subsequently pay Camilo in Colombian pesos.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Money Laundering
But all didn't always go well.
"The most I had to pay once was 3.5 billion pesos [around $1.1 million] for 820 kilograms of cocaine that anti-narcotic police seized in the port of Cartagena," Camilo said, adding that he was held responsible if something went wrong. "I had to pay back everything, and they gave me fifteen days. It was pay up or die."
At times, the drugs had to be stored for a while before being shipped. Following a multi-ton seizure in Panama, a client had asked Camilo to stall the shipment, because the price of the drug had dropped.
"In Panama a kilogram of cocaine costs $4,500, but since authorities are so corrupt, when they seize a go-fast boat with a metric ton, they sell the drugs themselves and that brings the price down."
On average, Camilo said that he typically earned monthly profits of between 600 and 700 million pesos ($200,000 to $230,000).
"I'm against sending large quantities, I prefer shipments of half a ton," he said. "To launch that quantity from the port can cost around 2.2 billion pesos [around $720,000]. I'm left with around 500 million [roughly $165,000], after deducting the costs."
When asked whether the drug trade might one day end, Camilo answered that this would be "impossible."
"An anti-narcotic officer who earns [a monthly salary of] 1.4 million pesos [$460], or an operator in charge of supervising the cargo, you tell him: 'Look, here are 10 million pesos [$3,300] so that you don't check a container. And if it launches, more will come,'" Camilo explained, referring to the almost irresistable financial incentives traffickers can offer to authorities.
He also said that anyone who refuses to go along gets "adjusted" by the criminal groups.
InSight Crime Analysis
In addition to insightful anecdotes and details about the financial aspects of his former occupation, the interview with Camilo paints a broader picture of Colombia's cocaine trade. Nearly all the major components of the business are mentioned: the production of coca crops, the raw material for cocaine; shipping methods and routes that often pass through Central America; and the money laundering methods used to conceal related financial transactions.
SEE ALSO: Colombia News and Profiles
However, a particular element of the trade stands out in the discussion; namely, corruption. In addition to illustrating the magnitude of this problem, which stretches across borders, the interview with Camilo serves as a reminder that no large-scale drug smuggling operation can be carried out without the help of colluding officials.