Colombian police announced the discovery of two clandestine landing strips in the southwest province of Cauca, indicating that drug smugglers are moving their product out of the region by both land and air.
The air strips were found in the municipalities of Balboa, where the 80th and 60th Fronts of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are both present, and Mercaderes, where the 64th Front has some presence.
The chief of Colombia’s anti-narcotics police told EFE that the strips belonged to the FARC. They were reportedly found near coca cultivations and a cocaine processing lab.
Cauca is one of Colombia’s most conflict-hit regions, where the FARC launches some of its most aggressive attacks against the security forces. In recent weeks, the conflict has intensified to the point that members of a Cauca indigenous group attempted to eject the military from their territory, stating they were tired of being caught in the middle of the civil conflict.
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Cauca is a major area of marijuana production in Colombia, and is also a distribution point for cocaine and coca paste produced further south. The head of the anti-narcotics force, Luis Alberto Perez, told El Espectador that so far they have identified 195 different methods used by drug traffickers to smuggle drug shipments out of the embattled department. One of the most popular techniques involves smuggling small packages of narcotics, ranging from one to 10 kilos, popularly known as “ant” smuggling.
The ant smugglers are deployed in order to distract the police, while larger shipments of cocaine are trafficked via other routes, Perez said. He added that the FARC also carry out attacks against the security forces in order to divert their attention from drug shipments. This theory could help explain why Cauca frequently sees firefights between the FARC and the security forces, unlike more peaceful parts of the country where the guerrillas prefer not to engage aggressively with the government.