Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon

The Colombian government's estimate that the FARC makes up to $3.5 billion annually in profts from the drug trade is staggering, but may not be entirely accurate.

Speaking at a forum organized by the University of Miami on October 23, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon provided the government’s latest figures on the illicit activities of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). According to Pinzon, the FARC makes between $2.4 and $3.5 billion annually from the drug trade. He added that of the 350 tons of cocaine produced in Colombia annually, some 200 can be linked back to the guerrillas.

Whereas the FARC were believed to have some 20,000 fighters at their peak in 2000, Pinzon said that they currently number 8,147, a drop of more than 50 percent in the past decade. Still, he noted that the rebels are “a very different organization” than before, having lost several top commanders in recent years.

InSight Crime Analysis

Estimating the size of the FARC’s total budget is an inexact science. Pinzon’s estimate of the rebels’ profits from the drug trade differs widely from a recent calculation released by the Attorney General’s Office, which put their total profits at around $1.1 billion. Both of these assessments are far higher than the United Nations Development program’s calculation in 2003, which listed the FARC’s annual income at no more than $342 million, with $204 million coming from the drug trade.

Additionally, Pinzon’s assertion that the FARC are “linked” to nearly two-thirds of cocaine produced in Colombia is a deceptively broad statement. These links can range from involvement in overseeing the early stages of coca cultivation and processing to directly exporting shipments of the drug into neighboring countries like Venezuela or Ecuador. While the guerrillas have been known to participate in the latter, the former arrangement is more common.

Ultimately it may be best to take Pinzon’s figures with a grain of salt. He is likely playing the hardline "bad cop" at the same time as the government enters into peace talks with the guerrillas to try to end the country's five-decade-old conflict. At the negotiating table the FARC are recognized as having political aspirations and their involvement in the drug trade is barely on the agenda for the talks. By focusing on the rebels’ criminal activities in his public comments, Pinzon may be sending a signal to FARC leaders that a failure to follow through on the peace process could see them permanently labelled as nothing more than "narco-terrorists."

Investigations

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

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

The department of Nariño in southwest Colombia is the main coca-producing area in the country and in the world. It is a place scarred by poverty and years of armed conflict between guerrillas, the state and paramilitary groups. Perhaps nowhere else in the country are the challenges...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Murder

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Murder

  Life of a Sicario Anatomy of a Hit   The BACRIM's control over territories such as the north Colombian region of Bajo Cauca comes at the point of a gun, and death is a constant price of their power.

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Money

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Money

  Drugs Extortion Criminal Cash Flows Millions of dollars in dirty money circulate constantly around Bajo Cauca, flowing upwards and outwards from a broad range of criminal activities. The BACRIM are the chief regulators and beneficiaries of this shadow economy.

Trafficking Firearms Into Honduras

Trafficking Firearms Into Honduras

Honduras does not produce weapons,[1] but weapons are trafficked into the country in numerous ways. These vary depending on weapon availability in neighboring countries, demand in Honduras, government controls and other factors. They do not appear to obey a single strategic logic, other than that of evading...

Closing the Gaps on Firearms Trafficking in Honduras

Closing the Gaps on Firearms Trafficking in Honduras

As set out in this report, the legal structure around Honduras' arms trade is deeply flawed. The legislation is inconsistent and unclear as to the roles of different institutions, while the regulatory system is insufficiently funded, anachronistic and administered by officials who are overworked or susceptible to...

Counting Firearms in Honduras

Counting Firearms in Honduras

Estimates vary widely as to how many legal and illegal weapons are circulating in Honduras. There are many reasons for this. The government does not have a centralized database that tracks arms seizures, purchases, sales and other matters concerning arms possession, availability and merchandising. The laws surrounding...

Trafficking Firearms in Honduras

Trafficking Firearms in Honduras

The weapons trade within Honduras is difficult to monitor. This is largely because the military, the country's sole importer, and the Armory, the sole salesmen of weapons, do not release information to the public. The lack of transparency extends to private security companies, which do not have...

Venezuela Prisons: 'Pranes' and 'Revolutionary' Criminality

Venezuela Prisons: 'Pranes' and 'Revolutionary' Criminality

In May 2011, a 26-year-old prison gang leader held 4,000 members of the Venezuelan security forces, backed by tanks and helicopters, at bay for weeks. Humiliated nationally and internationally, it pushed President Hugo Chávez into a different and disastrous approach to the prison system.

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Power

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Power

  The Bajo Cauca Franchise BACRIM-Land Armed Power Dynamics The BACRIM in places like the region of Bajo Cauca are a typical manifestation of Colombia's underworld today: a semi-autonomous local cell that is part of a powerful national network.