As Colombian traffickers and police continually try to outfox each other, liquid cocaine has returned to the fore as an increasingly popular drug smuggling method.
On February 5, Colombian police seized around 3.5 tons of cocaine at the northern port of Cartagena. This was the fifth seizure of liquid cocaine since November 2021 and came just one week after the discovery of nearly 20,000 coconuts filled with liquid cocaine, also found in the port of Cartagena and bound for Italy.
In the latest seizure, the cocaine had been dissolved and mixed in two shipments, one of organic fertilizer and the other of molasses extracted from sugar cane. Both shipments came from Urabá, a region in northwestern Colombia, and authorities said they were destined for the ports of Valencia, Spain, and Veracruz, Mexico.
At a press conference, General Jorge Luis Vargas Valencia, head of Colombia’s national police, declared that while the case is still being investigated, the liquid cocaine shipments may have been planned by the Urabeños, also known as the Gulf Clan.
“Looking at the documents, [the cocaine] could be related to some of the companies that are being investigated for belonging to the Gulf Clan,” Vargas said.
Liquid cocaine was first reported in 2011 when just 13 kilograms were seized in the Bolivian department of Santa Cruz, on the border with Brazil and Paraguay. However, according to El Heraldo, citing police sources, this technique was likely used for some time previously in Colombia without being detected.
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The recent seizures of liquid cocaine suggest that criminal organizations have once again resorted to this modality to try and stay one step ahead of authorities in the cocaine hide-and-seek game.
As port controls become stricter, with ever more significant quantities of cocaine being seized in Latin America and Europe, criminal networks are needing to innovate. A report by the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) stated that liquid cocaine is almost imperceptible by scanners installed in ports or airports.
The production of liquid cocaine involves dissolving cocaine in water, solvents or other products containing chemical compounds such as mannitol, glucose, cellulose or lactose. It is then placed inside products such as shampoo bottles or hidden among sugar cane molasses, making it easier for them to be trafficked in containers or carried by drug mules.
Liquid cocaine is far more difficult to detect than powdered cocaine because of these methods since it is dissolved into substances that cover up its smell, according to Luis Fernando Trejos, a professor at Universidad del Norte.
He told InSight Crime that liquid cocaine was not previously a popular option for traffickers, since bringing it back to its original state involves a decanting process in which around 10 percent of the product can be lost.
“But this is a risk that drug traffickers are willing to take today to circumvent controls and ensure that the product reaches its destination,” said Trejos.