Attempts to Purchase Colombia Rebel Drug Labs Show Sinaloa Cartel Expansion

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Police in Colombia have arrested an operative from Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel who was attempting to buy cocaine laboratories from Colombia’s FARC rebels, in another sign the cartel is extending its reach further down the drug supply chain.

Hector Manuel Coronel Castillo, also known as “Rincon,” was captured following a six-month undercover operation in the Colombian city of Cali, and allegedly moved around the country administering the Mexican cartel’s business, according to El Tiempo.

Coronel was responsible for sending at least ten tons of cocaine from Colombia to Mexico over the past year, police said, with help from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Coronel was also tasked with buying FARC-owned cocaine laboratories in the states of Cauca and Nariño, near the border with Ecuador.

The Sinaloa link apparently negotiated with leaders of the FARC’s Daniel Aldana column, which in turn guaranteed the safe movement of the drugs from processing labs in Colombia to the exterior.

According to Colombian authorities, the cocaine was transported to the port city of Buenaventura and then packed into boats that moved it to Central America and finally onwards to the United States.

In the operation, police also captured Narciso Portilla Arevalo, a Colombian with ties to the Sinaloa Cartel, according to Caracol.

InSight Crime Analysis

Talk of the Sinaloa Cartel buying up the FARC’s drug trade interests is not new. In 2013, reports emerged the guerrillas were selling off coca plantations and laboratories to the Mexican group ahead of a potential peace agreement with the Colombian government.

The rebels and the government are in the middle of long-running negotiations, and have now reached the third item on a five-point agenda — the illegal drug industry. These recent negotiations between the FARC and the Sinaloa Cartel may indicate guerilla leaders are serious about striking peace and withdrawing from the drug trade, though the acceptance of such a move by mid-level commanders and rank-and-file guerrillas is far from certain.

SEE ALSO: FARC, Peace and Potential Criminalization

The Sinaloa Cartel’s direct negotiations with the FARC also suggest the cartel has been seeking new partners in the wake of the implosion of longtime Colombian drug smuggling allies, the Rastrojos. Other allies, such as the Cifuentes Villa clan, have also fallen, and the Sinaloa Cartel likely needs to strengthen its supply line.

By going directly to the FARC, which controls large swaths of coca cultivation land and already provides cocaine to them, the Sinaloa Cartel also cuts out any middlemen, therefore claiming a larger slice of the profits.

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