Rastrojos Arms Bust Points to Venezuela Military Connection

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Colombia police have seized weapons from criminal gang the Rastrojos which include guns reportedly traced to the Venezuelan military, hinting at a connection between the neo-paramilitary group and elements of Venezuela’s army.

During the operation, which took place just a few miles from Colombia’s border with Venezuela, police seized 55 firearms, including M-16, AK-47, and FAL rifles, among others, said Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon. According to a report by El Universal, the weapons had Venezuelan military markings.

Authorities also seized 10,000 rifle cartridges, according to a Globovision/EFE report. In addition to the arms seized, police destroyed two cocaine processing laboratories capable of producing three tons of the drug a month, El Tiempo reported.

The operation in the Norte de Santander department follows the seizure of 29 weapons earlier this year in Cucuta, the department’s capital.

InSight Crime Analysis

Judging by the description of these weapons, and a photo, above, of some of them laid out on a table, they appear to be mostly FAL rifles from Venezuelan military stockpiles. While it does not appear that these weapons have come from Venezuela’s new arms factory, there is an important connection. Amid an ambitious military modernization program, Venezuela is purchasing or building hundreds of thousands of new weapons, emphasizing the AK-103 assault rifle, which reduces the need to maintain its old arms caches.

This likely contributes to what appears to be a flow of guns from older military stockpiles into the hands of the Rastrojos. Given that the FARC traditionally has better contacts to procure arms supplies from the Venezuelan military, the fact that the Rastrojos have obtained old military equipment may hint at an increased flow of decommissioned or limited-use Venezuelan weapons into Colombia.

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