A cocaine lab found in Nariño in June 2015

A huge cocaine processing complex run by the ELN has been found in west Colombia, showcasing the guerrilla group's role in a drug trade that could soon be changing hands.

The Colombian Armed Forces have discovered one of the biggest cocaine laboratories ever found in the western department of Nariño, according to an army press release. The compound was reportedly capable of producing seven tons of cocaine per month and was run by the Comuneros del Sur Front of Colombia's second largest guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN).

Estimated to be worth over $3.2 million, with more than $1.9 million in drug precursor materials, the complex consisted of two cocaine manufacturing plants, a living area for 50 people, and an electricity plant.

Three months of intelligence gathering led authorities to the cocaine processing facility, located in a woodland area in the municipality of Samaniego. The army seized 347 kg of what appeared to be cocaine, over 15,000 liters of liquid cocaine, seven tons of solid precursor material, and over 91,000 liters of liquid precursors.

InSight Crime Analysis

Nariño is one of Colombia's main coca producing regions, with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group known to use it as a base for cocaine production. It is far less common, however, to discover an ELN-run cocaine lab, especially of this scale.

SEE ALSO: ELN News and Profile

Following decades of avoiding involvement under Manuel Perez Martinez, alias "El Cura Perez," the ELN's greater role in the drug trade is now evident throughout Colombia. In the key coca growing department of Norte de Santander, the ELN front Juan Fernando Porras Martinez is funded entirely by drug trafficking, according to intelligence sources consulted by InSight Crime. The front's leader, alias "Gonzalo Satelite," allegedly took over a large coca producing zone following the demobilization of the Bloque Catatumbo, a faction of the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC).

Nevertheless, the ELN still appears to lack an efficient trafficking network in this region, with sources telling InSight Crime they have been unable to move 4.5 tons of cocaine since the recent death of major cocaine broker Victor Ramon Navarro, alias "Megateo."

While the ELN's traditional distance from the drug trade has been considered a reason for their slower growth compared to the FARC, the tables could soon turn. A potential demobilization of the FARC -- who are currently believed to control up to 70 percent of all coca cultivation in Colombia -- looms on the horizon. The ELN, however, are still struggling to get peace talks with the government underway. As a result, should elements of the FARC abandon their drug trafficking infrastructure across the country -- as was the case with the demobilization of the AUC -- the ELN may be next in line to fill the vacuum.

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

Justice and the Creation of a Mafia State in Guatemala

Justice and the Creation of a Mafia State in Guatemala

As Guatemala's Congress gears up to select new Supreme Court Justices and appellate court judges, InSight Crime is investigating how organized crime influences the selection process. This story details the interests of one particular political bloc vying for control over the courts and what's at stake: millions of ...

The Victory of the Urabeños - The New Face of Colombian Organized Crime

The Victory of the Urabeños - The New Face of Colombian Organized Crime

The mad scramble for criminal power in the aftermath of the demobilization of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) is over. The Urabeños, or as they prefer to call themselves, the "Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia," have won.

50 years of the FARC: War, Drugs and Revolution

50 years of the FARC: War, Drugs and Revolution

The possibility of ending nearly 50 years of civil conflict is in sight. While the vast majority of the Colombian public want to see peace, for themselves and especially for their children, the enemies of the peace negotiations appear to be strong, and the risks inherent in the ...

Mexico’s Security Dilemma: Michoacan’s Militias

 Mexico’s Security Dilemma: Michoacan’s Militias

Well-armed vigilantes in Mexico's Michoacan state have helped authorities dismantle a powerful criminal organization, but now the government may have a more difficult task: keeping Michoacan safe from the vigilantes and rival criminal groups.

Uruguay, Organized Crime and the Politics of Drugs

Uruguay, Organized Crime and the Politics of Drugs

After the lower house passed the controversial marijuana bill July 31, Uruguay is poised to become the first country on the planet to regulate the production, sale, and distribution of the drug, and provide a model for countries looking for alternatives to the world’s dominant drug policy paradigm. ...

The Zetas in Nuevo Laredo

The Zetas in Nuevo Laredo

After the capture of Zetas boss "Z40," Nuevo Laredo is bracing itself for the worst. This investigation breaks down what makes the city such an important trafficking corridor, and what it will take for the Zetas to maintain their grip on the city.

El Salvador's Gang Truce: Positives And Negatives

El Salvador's Gang Truce: Positives And Negatives

Whether it is sustainable or not, the truce -- which the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and the Barrio 18 put into place March 2012 -- has changed the conventional thinking about who the gangs are and what is the best way to handle the most difficult law and order ...

FARC, Peace and Possible Criminalization

FARC, Peace and Possible Criminalization

The possibility of ending nearly 50 years of civil conflict is in sight. While the vast majority of the Colombian public want to see peace, for themselves and especially for their children, the enemies of the peace negotiations appear to be strong, and the risks inherent in the ...

Corruption in El Salvador: Politicians, Police and Transportistas

Corruption in El Salvador: Politicians, Police and Transportistas

Since the end of El Salvador's civil war, the country's police has become a key player in the underworld. This series of five articles explore the dark ties between criminal organizations and the government's foremost crime fighting institution.

Juarez after the War

Juarez after the War

As a bitter war between rival cartels grinds to an end, Ciudad Juarez has lost the title of world murder capital, and is moving towards something more like normality. InSight Crime looks at the role politicians, police, and for-hire street gangs played in the fighting -- asking who ...