Raid of Colombia Cocaine Labs Shows Resilience of Drug Trade

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Security forces in Colombia have destroyed over 150 cocaine laboratories belonging to a criminal group that the government recently announced had been dismantled, a sign of the drug trade’s resiliency as the country enters the post-conflict phase. 

Colombia’s National Police announced on February 20 the destruction of 168 laboratories in the southern department of Putumayo during a security operation last week, reported El Espectador. The laboratories were reportedly operated by a criminal group in the area known as La Constru. 

The laboratories produced cocaine in both its refined and unrefined form, authorities said. In total, they seized 4.5 tons of unfinished cocaine as well as almost 20 tons of liquid and solid precursor chemicals.

The raid generated losses of 9.3 billion Colombian pesos (about $3.2 million) for the Constru, according to El Tiempo. The joint air and land operation was conducted in four Putumayo municipalities: Puerto Asís, Puerto Caicedo, Valle del Guamuez and San Miguel. 

InSight Crime Analysis

The massive operation suggests that the Constru, recently thought to have been wiped out by the security forces, is in fact taking on greater power in the cocaine hub of Putumayo. Last December, Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas declared that the Constru had been “dismantled” following the arrests of 25 members of the criminal group, including its leader. But that is obviously not the case. 

Indeed, last week’s raid netted a far greater number of cocaine laboratories than past operations against the Constru, a potential sign the group is taking on a bigger role in the drug production business. This development would most likely be due to the demobilization of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC), which is in the process of moving into concentration zones following a peace agreement with the government last November.

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The Constru had reportedly forged a criminal alliance with the FARC’s 48th Front, but the guerrillas’ withdrawal from the civil conflict may be enabling the Constru to expand its drug trafficking operations. It’s also possible that dissident FARC element have abandoned the peace process and have gone to work for the criminal group. (An InSight Crime investigative team has not yet registered any dissidents from the 48th Front.) In either scenario, the Constru stands to gain from the coming changes to Colombia’s criminal landscape.  

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