The arrest of an intermediary between the Sinaloa Cartel and Colombia’s Rastrojos and the FARC, sheds light on the extensive business connections between Mexico and Colombia, responsible for shipping hundreds of tons of cocaine every year.
On April 15, Colombian police announced the capture of Hector Meneses Yela, alias “Guara,” accused of acting as a broker between the Sinaloa Cartel’s Joaquin Guzman Loera, alias “El Chapo,” and Luis Enrique Calle Serna, alias “Comba,” of the Rastrojos, as well as members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC)
Colombian newspaper El Tiempo reports that Meneses bought coca base from one of the wealthiest units of the FARC, the 48th Front, based in the southern border department of Putumayo. According to El Tiempo, the Rastrojos would crystallize the base into cocaine then smuggle the goods from Putumayo into Ecuador. Ecuadorean traffickers handled the next link in the chain, moving the drugs from coastal provinces like Esmeraldas, from where it was shipped to Mexico.
The Ecuador-Mexico connection was handled by traffickers like the recently killed “Oliver Solarte,” a Colombian who worked closely with the 48th Front, as well as Jefferson Ostaiza, one of three brothers who worked with both Solarte and the FARC, says the El Tiempo report.
The connection between the Rastrojos and the Sinaloa Cartel goes back years. Before doing business with the Rastrojos, the Sinaloa Cartel primarily worked with the Norte del Valle Cartel, based in Cali. The Rastrojos was once the armed wing of the Norte del Valle Cartel until 2008, when Luis Calle Serna had his boss, Wilber Varela, alias “Jabon,” killed in Venezuela.
The former armed wing of the Sinaloa Cartel, led by Arturo Beltran Leyva, also handled many of the Colombia-Mexico business transactions. According to statements by a former member of the Norte del Valle Cartel member, Mauricio Harold Poveda Ortega (arrested in 2008), Arturo Beltran met with Luis Calle Serna about coordinating cocaine shipments, said Mexican newspaper La Reforma.
As detailed by Reforma, typical business deals between the Norte del Valle Cartel and Beltran-Leyva would involve go-fast boats carrying at least 2.5 tons of cocaine, priced at $14,000 a kilo. Larger boats would carry between six and 10 tons of cocaine, and semi-submersible vessels, or “narco-subs,” would carry between seven and eight tons.
The shipments would depart from two cities on Colombia’s Pacific coast: Tumaco in Nariño department, and Buenaventura, Valle. These are two current strongholds of the Rastrojos and among the most violent cities in Colombia. According to Poveda’s statements, the shipments would travel 500 miles to Acapulco or Huatulco, where members of the Beltran Leyva organization would pick up the consignments. Poveda received 20 to 30 tons of cocaine from the Norte del Valle Cartel per year, before he was arrested in Mexico in November 2008.
It is probable that the heirs of the Norte del Valle Cartel, the Rastrojos, have been able to maintain — if not increase — this kind of export levels. In February, Colombia discovered its first true narco-submarine in Rastrojos territory along the Pacific Coast, a sign of the group’s increasingly sophisticated smuggling techniques.
The biggest current threat to the Rastrojos-Sinaloa relationship is the war with longtime rivals, the Urabeños, who are usually based along the Atlantic seaboard but are now moving into the Pacific Coast. If such a war begins distracting the Rastrojos from business towards fighting a protracted war, shipments to Sinaloa could be threatened. The Urabeños are believed to supply Sinaloa’s rivals, the Zetas, and should the Urabeños successfully challenge the Rastrojos along Colombia’s Pacific Coast, this could strengthen the Zetas in Mexico.