Discovery of Rebel Cocaine Labs in Colombia Highlight Drug Alliances

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Colombian police have destroyed 44 cocaine laboratories they say were part of an operation that brought together guerrilla groups the FARC, the ELN and the remnants of the EPL, showing how the guerrillas’ cooperation extends to the drug trade.

Anti-narcotics police discovered the laboratories while carrying out operations in the north eastern department of Norte de Santander, which borders Venezuela, reported AFP.

According to police General Yesid Vasquez, the laboratories were run by guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). The processed cocaine was then sold on to Victor Manuel Navarro, alias ‘Megateo,’ head of a small dissident faction of demobilized guerrilla group the Popular Liberation Army (EPL), which is now dedicated to drug trafficking.

InSight Crime Analysis

A coca growing region close to the popular drug transit routes of Venezuela, Norte de Santander is a nexus for many of the criminal alliances that control Colombia’s drug trade.

It is a traditional stronghold of the ELN, home to one of the FARC’s seven fighting divisions or “bloques”, and the last known hideout of FARC commander-in-chief Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, alias “Timochenko,” and the base for the EPL holdouts led by Megateo.

The ELN and the FARC are known to cooperate in military operations, while the EPL, which only has an estimated 50 fighters, shares its intelligence and contacts with the larger organizations. The three groups are also heavily involved in the drug trade and maintain their own coca growing operations, while Megateo has emerged as a major broker for cocaine and coca base.

While it seems likely each laboratory was run by the ELN or the FARC rather than as a joint operation, the police operations highlight the security challenge presented by the guerrillas’ narco-alliances.

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