FARC negotiating team in Havana

The Sinaloa Cartel has been buying up FARC drug trafficking franchises as the rebels look to divest themselves of their drug assets, according to one report, suggesting the guerrillas are serious about demobilization, but sparking concerns over who will replace them.

Mid-level commanders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in the departments of Meta and Caqueta are selling off their interests in the drug trade in anticipation of success of peace negotiations currently taking place in Havana, and subsequent demobilization, according to an anonymous official source cited by El Tiempo.

The sale has provided an opening for Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's Sinaloa Cartel, which has been looking to expand its involvement in the production stage of cocaine trafficking, according to an intelligence agent consulted by El Tiempo.

The cartel's expansion into Colombia has been at least partially provoked by the declining quality of product reaching Mexico, which is a result of law enforcement successes against trafficking groups in Colombia, said the source.

Intelligence reports suggest that the Sinaloans are currently expanding throughout Colombia, controlling coca plantations and cocaine processing labs near the border with Ecuador, and operating in Antioquia and Cordoba provinces in the north and in Norte de Santander, which borders Venezuela.

InSight Crime Analysis

If accurate, the report that FARC members are selling off franchises would suggest that not only are the rebels serious about the peace negotiations but also that they expect them to succeed. However, it also raises the critical question of who would replace them in the drug trafficking chain if they demobilized.

It was never realistic to expect the FARC to simply walk away from their lucrative interests in the drug trade, despite the lofty rhetoric that has accompanied the peace talks, and this latest news offers a glimpse of how they may try to cash in on their demobilization. If the process expands into a nationwide criminal auction, it could represent a unique opportunity for trafficking groups looking to rapidly increase their profits and status in the drug trade.

The idea that the Sinaloa Cartel is trying to take advantage of this is a worrying sign, not only because it would confirm the cartel's reach into Colombia, but also because of the conflicts it might unleash. The Sinaloa Cartel is known to have close ties to the once powerful but now fragmented Rastrojos, and its increased presence could bring it into conflict with the Urabeños, the Rastrojos' main rivals. The Urabeños are currently aggressively expanding throughout Colombia and are believed to be suppliers for the Sinaloa Cartel's enemies in the Zetas.