A series of arrests have revealed that a powerful Colombian trafficking group has a strong foothold in Panama, where corrupt officials and security forces have aided in the group's operations.
Since December 1, 56 people have been arrested as part of Operation Fisher in Panama, which authorities say dismantled criminal operations in the country linked to the Gaitanistas, also known as the Gulf Clan, Urabeños, and Gaitanist Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia – AGC). Nine officials were arrested, including five police officers, two Panama Canal Authority functionaries, one municipal employee and one member of the Education Ministry.
According to a report from the Attorney General's Office, the investigation began in 2020 after a drug trafficking group, known as Humildad y Pureza (Humility and Purity - HP) and made up of Colombians and Panamanians, were found moving large quantities of drugs across the border.
Members of this group received shipments of cocaine in the Pacific province of Colón and Panama City. The AGC sent the drugs by go-fast boats from Colombia.
The HP gang began as a group focused on robberies between 2016 and 2017 before establishing a link as partners to the AGC.
SEE ALSO: The Urabeños After Otoniel - What Becomes of Colombia's Largest Criminal Threat?
Panamanian authorities stated that the HP gang's two leaders, Carlos Roberto Aguilar Becerra, alias "Robert," and Franklin Ariel Acevedo, alias "Franklito," were not arrested and have offered a reward of $70,000 for information leading to their capture.
Robert's brother was arrested on December 4, and a luxury beach property belonging to the gang was seized.
InSight Crime Analysis
The AGC control much of the cross-border criminal economies linking Colombia to Panama, including maritime drug trafficking and human smuggling across the Darién Gap.
The Colombian region of Urabá - located on the Panamanian border - is where the AGC were founded and got their name. Therefore, it is no surprise that its criminal links included well-established partners in Panama, including corrupt police and government officials.
SEE ALSO: Profile of Urabeños - Gulf Clan
Furthermore, while the AGC directly control areas of coca production and cocaine trafficking in Colombia, it has also spread its influence through a complex franchise system by recruiting groups to work in its name. This scheme appears to have been replicated in Panama.
According to Panamanian authorities, the HP was hired to guarantee the transport of AGC's cocaine through Panama.
This is not the first time this year that the AGC have made waves outside Colombia. The group has also attempted to establish a foothold in Venezuela.