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Sinaloa Cartel May Have Presence in Southwest Colombia: Santos

An aerial view of Tumaco, Colombia An aerial view of Tumaco, Colombia

Rumors suggest that Mexican drug cartels have established a presence in southwest Colombia, according to Colombia’s president, highlighting the strategic importance of the region in the drug trade.

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During a February 14 security conference in Tumaco, in Colombia’s Nariño department, President Juan Manuel Santos said that there have been “many rumors” that Mexican cartels are present in this department, and in particular, the powerful Sinaloa Cartel, El Pais reported.

The president said that the Prosecutor General’s Office and the National Police will investigate the possibility that Mexican cartels are present in this southwestern province, which borders Ecuador to the south and the Pacific Ocean to the west, and is one of Colombia’s biggest coca producing regions.

Santos also said that he would increase the Tumaco police force by 200, indicating concern over security in the port city, which has the highest rate of coca production in Colombia and is one of the most violent areas of the country.

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The president’s statements did not make clear whether he believes that the cartel is developing a permanent armed presence in Nariño or merely has representatives there. Regardless, the department’s geographic location and coca plantations make it a strategic convergence point for transnational drug traffickers.

Numerous criminal organizations already operate within the department, including the Rastrojos, the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Tumaco has served as a particularly strategic site for these organizations, which use the port and the surrounding area as an exit point for drug shipments.

Colombian authorities have previously arrested various operatives accused of acting as intermediaries between the Sinaloa Cartel and Colombian criminal organizations, including Jorge Milton Cifuentes in November 2012, member of an infamous Colombian drug trafficking family, and, in January 2013, a Cali man thought to coordinate activities with Sinaloa Cartel head Joaquin Guzman Loera, alias "El Chapo." In early 2012, Colombia arrested 34 members of a little-known group, the Galeano Clan, also thought to have Sinaloa Cartel ties.

In early 2011, Colombia’s chief of police reported that the Sinaloa Cartel had begun working with the FARC, following reports that the cartel had operatives in Peru and Ecuador. Ecuador has also served as a connection point between Colombian and Mexican drug trafficking organizations. 

The large number of alleged Sinaloa Cartel operatives arrested in southern Colombia highlights the region's importance to drug traffickers, and makes a Sinaloa Cartel presence in Nariño well within the realms of possibility. The department’s border with Ecuador, long coastline, coca production, and history of criminal activity, coupled with the cartel's expanding influence, serve to increase this likelihood.

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