Mexico Cartel Presence in Colombia May Have Been Exaggerated

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A series of arrests of alleged Mexican drug traffickers in Colombia has revived controversy over the establishment of foreign cartels in the South American country. However, their presence does not seem to go beyond simple business relations.

On April 12, authorities in Bogotá detained alias “Rafa,” an alleged emissary of Ismael Zambada García, alias “El Mayo,” the leader of Mexico’s powerful Sinaloa Cartel. Rafa allegedly connected the group with drug traffickers in Colombia to purchase cocaine that would be sent to Mexico and then the United States, according to authorities

Just a week later, Martín Beltrán Delgadillo, alias “Richard,” was captured and extradited to Panama after it was discovered he was the link between the Sinaloa Cartel and the dissident 30th Front of the now largely demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) in the southwest departments of Cauca and Valle del Cauca.

SEE ALSO: Pacific Drug Routes From South America More Popular Than Atlantic

A few months earlier, in October 2018, Colombian authorities arrested Bernabé Millán Rascón, a suspected member of the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación – CJNG) in Bogotá. Anti-narcotics officials said that Millán Rascón was negotiating with drug traffickers from the departments of Cauca and Nariño — ground zero of Colombia’s cocaine trade.

Millán Rascón, who had an Interpol red notice out for him for drug trafficking charges, had previously entered Colombia on several occasions.

Authorities in Colombia have reported the presence of Mexican drug traffickers in at least 10 departments throughout the country.

InSight Crime Analysis

There is a long-standing relationship between criminal groups in Colombia and Mexico. However, changes to criminal dynamics in both countries are transforming these ties.

Despite the fact that Colombia’s Attorney General’s Office indicated in January 2018 that they had detected the presence of Mexican drug traffickers in at least 10 of the country’s departments, their operations seem to focus on practical aspects of purchasing and transporting drugs.

Mexicans do not have a defined faction in Colombia, nor do they exercise territorial control.

Their envoys are largely limited to an emissary role.  They execute transactions in Colombia to purchase or supervise cocaine shipments in an effort to reinforce the safety of the cargo.

These emissaries, as an extension of the Mexican cartels, make this trip south in order to maximize their organization’s profits.

As negotiators, they prefer to buy cocaine along Colombia’s coasts at $3,000 per kilogram, and guarantee transport and security by arranging directly with criminal groups in Colombia. This increases the likelihood that the product will arrive safely in Mexico.

SEE ALSO: What Is the Mexican Cartels’ Strategy for Post-FARC Colombia?

These emissaries also seem to be good strategists. They so far have shown an ability to adapt to Colombia’s new criminal dynamics in the post-FARC era.

Their economic power allows them to operate throughout the country. They can negotiate with the highest bidders without the need to directly engage in internal disputes that may arise between local groups.

InSight Crime learned on a recent field trip in Colombia about the presence of Mexican emissaries in the south of Bolivar department, which extends down from Colombia’s northern Caribbean coast. This is far from Colombia’s Pacific, which until now has been the main base of operations for emissaries of Mexico’s organized crime groups.

This suggests an operational change. While these emissaries are far from departure points, they are now closer to areas where large swaths of coca crops are being cultivated, likely in an effort to cut out intermediaries and move towards production centers.

That said, Mexican emissaries would be in charge of the same tasks in such areas: overseeing the purchase of cocaine and then supervising the purity and transportation of the product to departure points along Colombia’s Caribbean coast.

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