The United States put out a “Global Call to Action on the World Drug Problem” ahead of the annual United Nations General Assembly meeting, but several countries, including some prominent allies, declined to sign on, suggesting the role of the US as a global leader on drug policy is in decline.
It calls on countries to develop “national action plans based on a four-pronged strategy” focused on reducing drug demand, boosting treatment for drug abuse, deepening multinational law enforcement cooperation, and reducing drug supply.
Trump administration officials sought UN member countries’ endorsement for the action plan ahead of the event, telling them it was “a final document and is not open for negotiation,” The Intercept reported, noting that this is an unusual move since UN drug policy is typically decided by deliberation and consensus.
While many major Latin American countries, like Colombia and Mexico, gave their support to the action plan, there were some notable exceptions.
The largest country in the region, Brazil, did not appear on the list of signatories. Brazilian President Michael Temer did not address the reason why in his opening remarks at the General Assembly.
Some countries with generally rocky relations with the United States, including Cuba, Bolivia and Venezuela, declined to sign. But others with generally positive relations with the United States, like Ecuador, El Salvador, Jamaica and Uruguay, also declined to lend their support to the document.
While these countries have not publicly discussed the reasons why they did not sign on to the action plan, others, including New Zealand, expressed concern that the strategy lacked a sufficient focus on treating drug abuse as a public health issue.
“We have a number of challenges that are quite specific to New Zealand and the particular drugs that are present, but also on taking a health approach,” a New Zealand official told Reuters. “We want to do what works, and so we’re using a strong evidence base to do that.”
The Global Commission on Drug Policy, a non-governmental organization that supports reforming the global drug control regime, strongly criticized the US-led initiative.
The call to action “signals the continuation of inefficient, costly and harmful policies,” the group said in a statement. “These policies result in punitive law enforcement, militarization, mass incarceration, forced treatment, and broken families and communities.”
“The Global Call to Action represents an attempt to demonstrate a consensus that no longer exists, including among a number of the signatories,” the commission added.
InSight Crime Analysis
While many countries in Latin America — including some that declined to endorse the action plan — still adhere to traditional, US-backed anti-drug policies, developments in recent years point to the erosion of the United States’ role as a leader on global drug policy.
In the mid-2000s, Bolivia legalized the cultivation of coca for traditional purposes and expelled the US Drug Enforcement Administration from the country. In the 2010s, it briefly withdrew from the UN’s main international drug treaty before being re-admitted without changing its laws on coca, despite objections by the United States and others.
More recently, Uruguay became the first country in the worldto establish a legalized and regulated marketplace for marijuana — again, despite strong objections from the United States.
In October, Canada will follow suit, becoming the second and largest country to legalize marijuana. Moreover, almost a fifth of US states have bucked the federal government’s total prohibition and legalized marijuana.
Indeed, Colombia, the world’s largest cocaine producer, signed on to the US-backed action plan ahead of a meeting between Trump and his recently inaugurated Colombian counterpart Iván Duque, who has signaled a strong commitment to traditional drug control policies. But even though Mexico endorsed the plan, President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador has expressed a desire to reorient the country’s drug policy in a more progressive direction when he takes office later this year.
Although the United States, particularly under the Trump administration, maintains a preference for treating drug control primarily as a law enforcement issue, international authorities are increasingly calling on governments to address the drug trade by emphasizing prevention and treatment of drug abuse.
The reaction to the recently unveiled action plan suggests many countries are taking note.
The recent indictment of a former president as part of a larger anti-corruption investigation is the latest in a series of cases targeting Argentina’s elites, but some of the case’s traits, and its potential consequences, make it unique.
Argentina has maintained a laser-sharp focus on the now-famous “notebook case” ever since the scandal broke almost two months ago. This focus intensified when a judge approveda request to prosecute former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who is currently a sitting senator.
The notebooks in question belonged to Oscar Centeno, the former driver for ex-Planning Minister Julio de Vido’s secretary. The minister served between 2003 and 2015 during the presidential terms of both the late Néstor Kirchner and his wife Cristina. During this time, Centeno detailed the alleged movement of $56 million in cash between government officials and business leaders, most of whom operated in public works construction. They supposedly paid bribes to secure state contracts and bids.
The notebooks landed in the hands of a journalist with Argentine newspaper La Nación in January. The reporter handed them over to a judge before publishing them eight months later. Judge Claudio Bonadío, who is overseeing the case and believes the bribes may reach up to $160 million, wasted no time in ordering the arrests of many of the suspects, among them top members of Argentina’s elite.
Corruption accusations like those against Fernández de Kirchner and her inner circle are nothing new in Argentina. Nor are the former president’s denials of culpability or complaints of “political persecution.”
However, several aspects unique to the notebook case show that the South American nation’s battle against corruption may be approaching an unprecedented breakthrough.
The revelations of alleged corruption found in the notebooks have opened a Pandora’s Box in Argentina’s political scene, setting off a chain reaction of first-time events in the country.
Judge Bonadío has demanded the arrest of dozens of government officials and elite business leaders who, until now, seemed untouchable. More than a dozen are currently under arrest, and more than 20 have exchanged insider knowledge for plea deals under a new law that may reduce the sentences of those who provide names and other useful information to prosecutors.
Among them are some of Fernández’s closest associates, including a former federal judge and several high-profile businesspeople.
Carlos Wagner, former head of the Construction Chamber trade association, stated that under the Kirchner and Fernández de Kirchner administrations, around 20 percent of the value of the country’s public works contracts was paid to the government officials who approved them, according to a report by Clarín.
Moreover, Paolo Rocca, one of the richest men in Argentina and the CEO of Techint Group, admitted that the company paid government bribes in 2008 so that Argentina would intercede on its behalf when the Venezuelan government wanted to close one of its subsidiaries operating in the neighboring country.
The New Plea Deal Law
A major reason behind the notebook case’s success has been that, for the first time in Argentina, a new plea deal law allows authorities to give sentence reductions or even acquittals to suspects who provide them with names or other information that is helpful to solving cases that involve crimes such as corruption and drug trafficking.
A striking number of the country’s business leaders have lined up to hand over information, including Angelo Calcaterra, a cousin of current President Mauricio Macri and former head of construction group IECSA, who admitted to making payments under the guise of “campaign contributions.”
The Amount of Money
Even though this does not seem to be the case where the most bribes were allegedly paid, the amounts of money allegedly involved are enormous, especially considering the dire economic situation Argentina is currently facing.
The fact that public officials and businesspeople allegedly moved up to $200 million in cash demonstrates the level of impunity in the country when it comes to corruption, which is key to understanding the case’s significance in national politics.
A Major Blow to Senator Fernández de Kirchner
The notebook case is only one in a long list of corruption-related accusations against the former president, including illicit association, fraud, illicit enrichment and money laundering.
While high levels of support may still buoy Fernández de Kirchner, it is impossible not to wonder if this case and its many plea deals will develop into the biggest blow yet to the senator.
Conspiracy Theories Put to the Test
Argentine society is extremely polarized politically, and that polarization has permeated all aspects of public life, including corruption investigations.
Those who support President Macri say there is no doubt corruption was a defining characteristic of the Kirchner administrations. To support their claims, they point mainly to the significant increase in their assets since their back-to-back terms began, as well as those of their closest allies.
Senator Fernández de Kirchner’s supporters allege that this is a case of political persecution, claiming that the Macri administration has almost exclusively targeted supporters of the former president in its corruption investigations while ignoring accusations of similarly shady dealings within the current government. Macri critics also cited a lack of concrete evidence against Fernández de Kirchner.
But the explanations that the former president has given regarding the origins of her personal fortune are not exactly convincing. And the evidence of the involvement of many of her closest allies in corruption cases may prove too damning to justify continued support for the claim that this is a simple case of political persecution.
Some have called the notebook case the “new Operation Car Wash,” referring to the case that led to the imprisonment of former Brazil President Luis Inácio “Lula” da Silva. But despite the high level of public attention, it is unlikely that the case will follow the same path.
Corruption investigations are not uncommon in Argentina, but convictions are. In fact, 92 percent of cases never even go before a judge, according to a Council of Magistrates audit of all open cases between 1996 and 2006.
Also important to consider is that Fernández de Kirchner enjoys parliamentary immunity as a sitting senator. While the possibility of withdrawing this immunity has been debated, there is little chance of it happening. Perhaps the best illustration of just how rare it is for such immunity to be removed from Argentine politicians is the case of another former president and current senator: Carlos Menem. A slew of charges have been brought against him dating back to the 1990s, but he has never seen jail time for any of them.
Nonetheless, the growing number of elites willing to reveal the secrets behind their allegedly illegal business practices with the government may be the long-awaited sign that Argentina is finally willing to face one of its most deeply entrenched problems.
When Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto took office in 2012, he put together a list of 122 alleged criminals whose arrests would be “high-priority” in the country’s fight against organized crime.
Now, with just a few months left in his presidency, most of the high-priority suspects have either been apprehended or killed, but few have been convicted, and Mexico’s violence continues unabated.
Peña Nieto presented his final annual government report on September 2, highlighting that the Mexican government succeeded in “neutralizing” 110 of the suspects on his administration’s list since his term began in December 2012. They included 96 arrests and 14 deaths during confrontations with public security forces.
The list of 122 “priority targets” was one of the most important features that Peña Nieto’s security plan hinged on. And it was never made public during his six years in office. The identity of each person on the list was only revealed when each individual was either arrested or killed.
But after Spanish newspaper El País made a formal request for information, the Mexican Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República — PGR) was forced to reveal details about the legal status of the people who had been apprehended, including whether they were still in prison.
El País was told of 109 suspects who were either arrested or killed, but Peña Nieto’s report included an additional arrest from February 8, bringing the total to 110.
At the time, the PGR stated that only four of the individuals who were arrested had been tried and convicted, and none of them held leadership positions within their respective criminal groups.
InSight Crime has since found reports of another five priority targets who were allegedly sentenced within months of the publication of the PGR report.
Based partly on reports from El País and Milenio, InSight Crime analyzed the most notable arrests from Peña Nieto’s list.
During Felipe Calderón’s presidency (2006 – 2012), the Zetas became one of the government’s primary targets due in part to the intensity of its violence against security forces and civilians.
That pressure did not let up under Peña Nieto. The cartel was the hardest hit on his priority target list, with 28 arrests and five deaths.
Of the Zetas members arrested, two of the most important are brothers Miguel Ángel Treviño and Alejandro Omar Treviño. Miguel Ángel, alias “Z40,” was at one time the top commander of the Zetas. The Mexican marines detained him in 2013, but five years later he is still awaiting trial in jail.
The fall of these and other key players, coupled with the Zetas’ chaotic expansion, has contributed to its current state as a decentralized and fragmented group that has lost significant territory to its rivals.
The most recent Zeta boss to be arrested was José María Guizar, alias “Z43,” whom the Mexican marines apprehended on February 8.
With 21 arrests and three members dead, the Sinaloa Cartel was hit the second hardest. Among the individuals that authorities have either arrested or killed are cartel leaders, financial operators and high-ranking hitmen.
The most celebrated — and controversial — arrest by the government was that of Joaquín Guzmán Loera, alias “El Chapo,” one of the Sinaloa Cartel’s top leaders. He was extradited to the United States and has a November trial set. But getting to that point was not without its setbacks.
El Chapo was the Western Hemisphere’s most wanted criminal when authorities first arrested him in February 2014. But almost a year and a half into his incarceration, he escapedfrom a maximum-security prison in one of the most embarrassing events in Peña Nieto’s presidency. Both national and international authorities conducted a massive manhunt until he was recaptured in Sinaloa six months later in January 2016.
Another high-ranking cartel boss to fall was Dámaso López Núñez, alias “El Licenciado.” The United States identified him as a major player in international drug trafficking, and it is believed he inherited El Chapo’s leadership role when he was arrested. However, El Licenciado’s stint at the top was short-lived, as he was detained in May 2017 and extradited to the United States in July 2018.
Despite these high-profile arrests, the Sinaloa Cartel continues to be the most important Mexican criminal organization on the world stage, albeit with a lower profile. Several of the group’s long-time drug trafficking leaders, such as Ismael Zambada, alias “El Mayo,” are still in business, and those who have been arrested often pass their positions of power on to relatives.
Other Fallen Bosses
While the Zetas and the Sinaloa Cartel may be Mexico’s biggest fish, they are certainly not the only ones. The 96 arrests and 14 deaths on Peña Nieto’s list also featured other key figures in the country’s underworld.
The Juárez Cartel’s Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, alias “El Viceroy,” was aprehended in 2014. His brother, Amado Carrillo Fuentes, alias “El Señor de los Cielos,” co-founded the group, and El Viceroy had taken over after his death in 1997.
In Michoacán, the leadership structure of the Knights Templar (Cabelleros Templarios) was all but dismantled after the deaths of Nazario Moreno, alias “El Chayo,” and Enrique “Kike” Plancarte in 2014, as well as the arrest of Servando Gómez, alias “La Tuta” in 2015.
Mario Ramírez Treviño, alias “X20,” took over as head of the Gulf Cartel after other leaders were either arrested or killed under the Calderón administration. The Mexican army arrested him in 2013, and he was extradited to the United States in 2017.
Fernando Sánchez Arellano, alias “El Ingeniero,” is the cousin of the Arellano Félix brothers, who founded the Tijuana Cartel. He ran the group for roughly three years before his arrest in 2013.
In 2014 the Peña Nieto administration celebrated the arrest of the last Beltrán Leyva brother — Héctor, alias “El H” — who led the Beltrán Leyva Organization (BLO). He was set to be extradited to the United States, but in 2017 a Mexican judge issued an injunction when El H appealed his extradition.
Glass Half Full?
At first glance, the Peña Nieto administration met the goals it set upon taking office in 2012. However, there are at least two issues that show the outlook is not as bright as it seems.
Among the 12 cartel bosses, the outgoing government failed to apprehend the Sinaloa Cartel’s El Mayo; the BLO’s Fausto Isidro Meza, alias “Chapo Isidro;” and Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, alias “El Mencho,” who currently leads the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación – CJNG).
The CJNG’s aggressive and unbridled growth has significantly altered Mexico’s cartel dynamics. Pair that with the Peña Nieto administration’s arrest of only three of its members, according to El País and Milenio, and you have the perfect recipe for one of the biggest challenges President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador — known widely as AMLO — will have to face once he takes office in December.
AMLO may also do well to recognize that simply decapitating criminal organizations is not enough to combat Mexico’s criminal violence. He is inheriting a historically high national murder rate from Peña Nieto that partly stems from the many power vacuums his high-profile arrests left behind, such as in the states of Baja California, Michoacán, Guerrero and Veracruz.
Guatemala President Jimmy Morales’ decision not to renew the mandate of the CICIG and to block reentry into the country of its leader, Commissioner Iván Velásquez, is already starting to have consequences for security in Guatemala.
Since 2007, when Congress approved the mandate for the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala – CICIG), the country’s economic and political elite has bristled at the presence of the internationally-backed anti-graft body, and their relationship has been fraught with tension.
The situation intensified when then-Attorney General Thelma Aldana teamed up with the CICIG to take on the same elites, including the president and his entourage.
It has now reached the point where, on August 31, Morales announced that he would not renew the CICIG’s mandate. And a few days later, commissioner Velásquez received a letterwhile abroad informing him that he would not be permitted to reenter Guatemala.
On September 19, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court (Corte de Constitucionalidad – CC) ordered immigration authorities to allow Velásquez to enter the country. However, speaking through two ministers, Morales said he would defy the court order.
Various sectors of civil society are against the president’s move, but there are also sizeable factions of the local business sector and Congress that support it.
The US government’s position, meanwhile, has been ambiguous, despite its being the CICIG’s primary financial contributor.
The turbulent relationship between the Morales administration, various government authorities and the CICIG has been going on for years now, and its consequences are growing more evident.
1. Risk of Violating the Country’s Constitutional Order
If Velásquez decides to return to Guatemala and the Morales government continues to disobey the CC’s order, the court is authorized to dismiss the officials who bar the Colombian commissioner from entering the country.
If Morales then interferes with the court’s dismissals, he would be disobeying a direct and binding order from the judicial branch of government. Such an act would be tantamount to violating the nation’s constitutional order, according to a high-level judicial official in Guatemala City whom InSight Crime consulted.
Such a violation could eventually lead to a state of siege or the suspension of constitutional guarantees. The militarization of public security forces for political purposes could also become a possibility.
In fact, an example of what Guatemala could see more of took place on September 15, the country’s Independence Day. Dozens of police officers restricted access to the public celebrations, including conducting body searches before allowing citizens to enter public spaces that had been cordoned off, according to media outlet Prensa Libre. They also allegedly targeted young people more than other populations.
2. Weakening Specialized Government Investigation Units
One of the main legacies of the CICIG is the anti-impunity unit (Fiscalía Especializada Contra la Impunidad – FECI) created at the Attorney General’s Office and tasked with working with the commission to investigate crimes related to corruption or complex criminal structures.
The FECI has spearheaded numerous landmark cases that have dismantled some of Guatemala’s longest-standing corruption networks, such as one dubbed “La Línea,” which uncovered a scheme led by ex-President Otto Pérez Molina to plunder state coffers through the customs department.
But the confrontation between Morales and the CICIG has affected these types of investigations. In April, Interior Minister Enrique Degenhart — an unconditional Morales supporter — reassigned trusted police officers who had been working with both the commission and the FECI.
Without the professional skills that the CICIG’s international investigators bring to the cases (skills that Guatemala’s institutions largely lack) and without the training they provide, these investigations will be less effective, FECI head Juan Francisco Sandoval explained to media outlet Factum.
On another front, Morales has also attempted to use Congress to reform Guatemala’s laws governing preliminary hearings, the last step in investigations conducted by the Attorney General’s Office and the CICIG. The hearings are used to remove immunity from government officials so they can stand trial for the crimes the two bodies accuse them of.
His aim is to shift the decision-making power over such hearings from the CC — which decides cases against government officials — to the legislature, where he has more allies.
Attorney General’s Office and judiciary officials told InSight Crime that this would allow Morales to remove his enemies in the CC from the equation and empower like-minded legislators to handle the preliminary hearings according to his whims.
3. A Return to the Official Narrative Focusing on Combating Street Gangs
In Guatemala, gangs such as the MS13 and Barrio 18 are not the main threat to public security. They are not responsible, for example, for the majority of the country’s homicides, unlike in El Salvador, where gangs are behind more than 60 percent of them, according to authorities.
An InSight Crime study revealed that, in Guatemala, no single type of criminal group — whether gangs, drug traffickers or other organized crime groups — is responsible for more than 35 percent of homicides.
With the arrival of Morales ally Degenhart to the Interior Ministry, however, such figures seem to have been overshadowed as the government’s fight against gangs retook its position as the centerpiece of its security policy. The minister’s first proposal was to categorize gang members as terrorists, emulating a controversial Salvadoran law despite the countries’ differing situations with organized crime.
In Honduras and El Salvador, the focus on gangs has meant that anti-corruption strategies have taken a back seat, even though they are key to dismantling the political mafias that have plagued the two countries. Moreover, favoring zero-tolerance models has only worsened crime rates.
4. Empowerment of Old Criminal Networks Still Embedded in the Government
The Attorney General’s Office has uncovered links between the intelligence and political corruption networks operating in Guatemala today. They can be traced back to the same origin: the old Illegal Clandestine Security Apparatuses (Cuerpos Ilegales y Aparatos Clandestinos de Seguridad – CIACS).
The CIACS are primarily made up of retired military personnel able to mobilize surveillance and cyber warfare resources. Attorney General’s Office investigations into massive corruption schemes have revealed the likely involvement of CIACS members in complex networks of front men used to hide money connected with illicit campaign financing and other crimes.
The CICIG’s exit from Guatemala would inevitably cause the country’s investigative capacity to plummet, paving the way for these criminal networks to once again act with near impunity.
Evidence of an uptick in the activities of these kinds of groups has already begun to emerge.
On September 16, at a press conference where the CC judges read their decision in favor of the CICIG, an undercover police officer attempted to photograph journalists who were covering the event. Once discovered, the officer identified herself as a member of the police force, then fled.
Vice Minister of the Interior Kamilo Rivera — a key Morales ally — said the agent was there at the request of the CC, which the court denied. Both the Attorney General and Human Rights Ombudsman’s Offices have opened investigations into the matter.
Amid such potential signs that government resources intended to fight crime are already being used for internal espionage or even political persecution, a CICIG exit from Guatemala could spell disaster for the country’s fight against corruption.
Cocaine production in Colombia broke new records in 2017, ushering in a new era of criminal violence among the many armed actors vying to control the lucrative industry as criminal dynamics continue to take shape after the departure of the FARC rebels.
Annual cocaine production in Colombia jumped 31 percent from a previous record of 1,053 metric tons in 2016 to 1,379 in 2017 and the number of hectares under coca cultivation rose 17 percent from 146,000 hectares in 2016 to 171,000 in 2017, according to illicit crop monitoring data published September 19 by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
Estimates released by the US White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) in June of this year, however, put the number of cocaine produced at 921 metric tons and the total number of hectares under coca cultivation at 209,000 in 2017.
Colombia continues to be the world’s principal producer of cocaine with the Pacific region accounting for nearly 40 percent of the country’s coca crops, followed by the Central region with a little more than 30 percent, according to the UNODC. The number of hectares under coca cultivation in the country has steadily increased each year since 2013.
The continued increase in the amount of coca being planted in Colombia can, in part, be explained by the government’s struggle to meet an ambitious eradication goal that includes a coca crop substitution program threatened by criminal violence and a lack of viable alternatives for coca growers, in addition to other logistical and political obstacles.
This continued uptick in cocaine production has caused increased criminal violence. In general, the ex-FARC mafia — networks of former fighters from the largely demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) — and the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN) are the principal armed actors influencing Colombia’s cocaine trade. A number of other smaller groups are also fighting for control.
In response, the Colombian government has increased the presence of security forces in key drug trafficking corridors throughout the country, which has had a balloon effect and displaced criminal actors and their drug trafficking activities to key border regions in Ecuador and Venezuela.
Below, InSight Crime looks at criminal dynamics in four key areas affected by skyrocketing cocaine production in the Andean nation.
(Shifts in coca cultivation between 2016 and 2017 in Colombia c/o UNODC report)
The southwest department of Nariño along Colombia’s Pacific coast remains the country’s main coca-producing area with 45,735 hectares under coca cultivation in 2017, according to the UNODC. This is also where security forces have concentrated many of their resources, forcing criminal groups to innovate and venture across the border into Ecuador.
At the heart of this dynamic is the ex-FARC mafia network known as the Oliver Sinisterra front, led by Ecuadorean national Walter Arizala Vernaza, alias “Guacho.” His network has utilized innovative strategies like subterranean drug labs near the Colombia-Ecuador border in an effort to evade authorities, and a series of violent attacks — including the killing of three Ecuadorean press workers — suggests they are fortifying their presence in the border region.
In response, authorities in Colombia and Ecuador have boosted security cooperation. The wounding of Guacho in a recent military operation suggests that security forces may be zeroing in on him and his network, which has already impacted criminal dynamics in this strategic region.
While south-central Guaviare department saw one of the biggest decreases in the number of hectares under coca cultivation in 2017, it hovers near Colombia’s borders with Venezuela and Brazil, two extremely important places for cocaine shipments. With security forces occupied on the other side of the country, record cocaine production is helping the 1st Front dissidence grow stronger here due to the key trafficking routes it features.
Brazil is the world’s second largest consumer of cocaine and has long been used as a key shipping point for international drug shipments. Venezuela is also a fundamentaltransshipment point for drug shipments coming from Colombia, and the country’s increasingly criminalized regime helps facilitate the safe passage of such shipments.
With the 1st Front dissidence in control of coca cultivation in all of Guaviare and the surrounding area, the laboratories where coca paste is transformed into cocaine hydrochloride and two international trafficking routes, the network looks poised to continue expanding their criminal activities as cocaine continues to flow and security forces have their hands full elsewhere.
Colombia’s Catatumbo region near the border with Venezuela consists of 11 municipalities in Norte de Santander department, which, according to the UNODC, saw a 14 percent increase in the number of hectares under coca cultivation in 2017, and is currently at the heart of a brutal battle between the ELN and the Popular Liberation Army (Ejército Popular de Liberación – EPL) over control of drug trade interests formerly controlled by the FARC.
However, the arrival of 1st Front dissidence leader Géner García Molina, alias “Jhon 40,” to the region in an effort to organize a growing number of former FARC rebels from the 33rd Front that have picked up arms again threatens to throw the already volatile fight for control over the region’s lucrative drug trade into further disarray.
Bajo Cauca Region
The Bajo Cauca region of northwest Antioquia department, where, according to the UNODC, the number of hectares under coca cultivation increased by 55 percent in 2017, has long been the site of criminal clashes due to its contraband routes and coca crops, among other illicit attractions.
Today, the Urabeños — formerly Colombia’s most powerfulcriminal organization before being replaced by networks of FARC dissidents — is battling it out against an ex-FARC mafia network of former fighters from the FARC’s 36th Front that is aligned with a splinter group known as the Caparrapos for control over illicit economies.
Aside from its criminal economies, Bajo Cauca is prized territory due to its proximity to the port city of Turbo on the coast of the Gulf of Urabá, a strategic launching point for drug shipments heading north that will grow increasingly important as cocaine continues to pour out of the country.
*This article was written with assistance from InSight Crime’s Colombian Organized Crime Observatory.