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
  • 10
Prev Next

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

In San Pedro Sula's jailhouse, chaos reigns. The inmates, trapped in their collective misery, battle for control over every inch of their tight quarters. Farm animals and guard dogs roam free and feed off scraps, which can include a human heart. Every day is visitors' day, and...

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...

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

When violence surged in early 2015 in Guatemala, then-President Otto Pérez Molina knew how to handle the situation: Blame the street gangs. 

Homicides in Guatemala: Analyzing the Data

Homicides in Guatemala: Analyzing the Data

In the last decade, homicides in Guatemala have obeyed a fairly steady pattern. Guatemala City and some of its surrounding municipalities have the greatest sheer number of homicides. Other states, particularly along the eastern border have the highest homicide rates. Among these are the departments of Escuintla...

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

Throughout the continent, the debate on whether or not the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) gang is working with or for drug traffickers continues. In this investigation, journalist Carlos García tells the story of how a member of the MS13 entered the methamphetamine distribution business under the powerful auspices...

Homicides in Guatemala: Collecting the Data

Homicides in Guatemala: Collecting the Data

When someone is murdered in Guatemala, police, forensic doctors and government prosecutors start making their way to the crime scene and a creaky, antiquated 20th century bureaucratic machine kicks into gear. Calls are made. Forms are filled out by hand, or typed into computers, or both. Some...

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador's prison system is the headquarters of the country's largest gangs. It is also where one of these gangs, the MS13, is fighting amongst itself for control of the organization.

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

In July 2011, members of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) attended a meeting organized in California by a criminal known as "Bad Boy." Among the invitees was José Juan Rodríguez Juárez, known as "Dreamer," who had gone to the meeting hoping to better understand what was beginning to...

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

Special Agent David LeValley headed the criminal division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Washington office until last November 8. While in office, he witnessed the rise of the MS13, the Barrio 18 (18th Street) and other smaller gangs in the District of Columbia as well...

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Following Guatemala's long and brutal civil war, members of the military were charged, faced trial and sentenced to jail time. Even some members of a powerful elite unit known as the Kaibil were put behind bars. Among these prisoners, none were more emblematic than Captain Byron Lima...