Authorities in Venezuela have destroyed 17 cocaine labs near the border with Colombia, highlighting the continued pattern of the migration of Colombian organized crime.
Members of the anti-drug division of Venezuela's National Guard discovered the drug production facilities in northwestern border state Zulia state. Security officials found more than two tons of cocaine and processing materials in the labs, bringing the total amount of drugs seized in Venezuela this year to 39 tons, reported AFP.
La Serrania de Perija, where the labs were discovered, is a mountain range bordering Colombia's Cesar and Norte de Santander departments.
The seizure is not the first major laboratory bust in Zulia state this year. In March, authorities dismantled 21 cocaine labs in the town of Jesus Maria Semprun, just 150 meters from the Colombian border.
InSight Crime Analysis
Drug trafficking and organized crime have a long history on the Colombia-Venezuela border, where armed Colombian groups have operated for years. Zulia state in particular has historically been a stronghold for several fronts of the guerilla Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), as well as the narco-paramilitaries of the BACRIM (from the Spanish acronym for "criminal bands").
SEE ALSO: FARC in Venezuela
Initially, these groups primarily used Venezuela to escape the attentions of Colombian security forces. However, the country's growing importance to international drug trafficking, the boom in other criminal activities in the border region, and the country's easily corrupted security forces have led to a deeper criminal migration, with groups establishing bases, recruiting locally and running criminal enterprises in Venezuela.
The discovery of cocaine labs follows this pattern of criminal migration. Although authorities have been aware of the presence of such labs for some time, the sheer number discovered so far this year compared to the past suggests processing operations are growing quickly.
Until recently, the territory around the Norte de Santander-Zulia border was controlled by the Rastrojos, but recent events suggest rivals the Urabeños are now staking a claim to the region. However, the labs are more likely linked to the FARC or other guerrilla groups, which oversee coca production in the region and are still able to operate with relative freedom on the Venezuelan side of the border.