FARC Dissidents Behind Drug Lab on Colombia-Ecuador Border?

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Authorities in Colombia dismantled a cocaine processing laboratory in the department of Putumayo along the border with Ecuador, a further indication that dissident elements of the demobilizing FARC guerrilla group are maintaining operations in this traditional trafficking hub.

The head of Colombia’s anti-narcotic police, General José Ángel Mendoza, told journalists on June 16 that the laboratory, which was discovered in a rural area near the municipality of San Miguel, was able process up to a metric ton of cocaine per week, reported El Nuevo Siglo.

The police official, who referred to the compound as a “megalaboratory,” described the processing complex as composed of 14 buildings and capable of housing 40 individuals while operating continuously day and night.

More than a metric ton of cocaine was seized in the operation, along with large quantities of precursor chemicals, weapons and explosives, according to a press release from Colombia’s military.

“It was a great production structure of narcotics. We’re talking about a real factory for drug production,” Mendoza said according to EFE.

Drug laboratories are common in Putumayo, one of Colombia’s main coca-producing departments. In February, for instance, authorities dismantled 168 laboratories in the department in a single week. 

InSight Crime Analysis

More than the characteristics of the operation, the location of the complex is of significance, as it suggests ongoing drug activities by dissident elements of the 48th Front of the demobilizing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC).

Authorities have not yet indicated which criminal group ran the lab. But during a field investigation in Putumayo’s San Miguel municipality, InSight Crime was told that dissident elements of the 48th Front operating in Putumayo were located in the Brisas administrative subdivision, where the laboratory was discovered.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Cocaine Production

In addition to being a center of drug production, Putumayo offers a porous border with Ecuador that has long facilitating smuggling of drugs, weapons and people. Prior to the signing of a historic peace agreement last year, the FARC’s 48th Front had long operated in the department, moving cocaine into Ecuador while also using the neighboring country as a safe haven.

Along with earlier reports of FARC dissidents forming criminal groups in Ecuador, the recent laboratory bust could suggest that defecting elements of the FARC intend to maintain trafficking operations in the border area traditionally run by the rebel group before its demobilization.

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