Colombia’s cocaine industry is of crucial importance to the drug-trafficking industry. The pandemic created a criminal vacuum in Colombia which criminal actors, including the Jalisco Cartel (CJNG), took advantage of. Although there was a CJNG presence in Colombia pre-pandemic, its relationships and the violence it is causing appear to be growing significantly.
Why Does This Matter
- The CJNG is highly likely dependent on Colombia to maintain its economic structure since there is a lack of alternatives in other coca-producing states. This and the pre-established trafficking routes make it highly likely that the CJNG places Colombia as a key driver of its growth.
- It is highly likely that the CJNG seeks to encourage the conflict in Colombia through the influx of weapons and capital. The CJNG has traded weapons and capital to already-confronted organizations in the country’s southwest. This exploits the conflict between different criminal factions in Colombia, broadening the room for the influence of the CJNG.
- It is likely that the CJNG intends to increase its footprint in Colombia at the expense of the Cartel de Sinaloa (CDS). A proxy war through criminal actors has seen Mexican cartels face off in Antioquia. Growth in influence likely inclines Colombian non-state actors to support the CJNG, reducing corridors and capability for the CDS.
Why Is This Important?
Violence is rising in certain regions of Colombia. Following the peace negotiations with the FARC in 2016, a power vacuum was created in the country since the FARC no longer had a presence. Currently, the actors are the Gulf Clan (Urabeños, Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia, AGC), the ELN, the EPL, and a range of dissidents FARC cells which did not participate in the negotiations. During the pandemic, the department of Cauca saw an increase of 29 percent in violence against civilians. Ex-FARC cells reportedly disputed territory in the south of Cauca during July and August. President Ivan Duque has placed responsibility on the drug trafficking industry.
The Mexican cartels have used weapons as a trading tool rather than capital. Both the CJNG and the CDS have monetized weapons in exchange for cocaine. In Antioquia, the CJNG and the CDS have clashed through proxies for the control of the drug trafficking corridors. Colombia produces 70 percent of the world’s cocaine. The regional importance of Colombia for Mexican cartels makes it likely that the CJNG will continue attempts to disrupt CDS’s influence.
The group purchases the substance in Colombia for a maximum of $5,000/kg; while in Mexico cocaine is sold at a minimum of $15,500/kg. The purchasing price of cocaine in Colombia is multiplied by 25 when sold in the United States. The conditions in Colombia almost certainly incentivize the CJNG to expand its business to a more lucrative territory.
The CJNG uses different types of routes to transport the substance into Mexican soil. The air route commonly starts from Zulia in Venezuela and continues to airstrips in Guatemala and Honduras where the substance is transported by air or land onto Mexican soil. Contacts within the Venezuelan air force and government allow the group to use Venezuelan soil as a safe haven for transport and shipment. Captains reportedly earn $500,000 for each transport plane permitted to land in Zulia.
The maritime route starts from the pacific coast, particularly Nariño, and arrives at the Mexican coast or Guatemala to later be transported inland. According to reports, the group uses vessels or semi-submergible boats. A semi-submergible was captured in August with an integrated satellite-driven GPS worth $1.2 million, and a capacity to store three tonnes of cocaine. It was carrying one kilo worth $18 million.
The employed methodology and incurred cost are indicators of two drivers: Firstly, the CJNG’s resolve in gaining a foothold in Colombia; secondly, its dependency on Colombian drug corridors and production.
Colombia is highly likely the only viable actor that has the capability to cover CJNG’s cocaine demand. In 2019, Colombia reportedly provided 70 percent of the global cocaine supply. Between 2017 and 2018, 90 percent of cocaine trafficked out of Colombia was destined for the United States. In 2019, although coca crops were reduced by 9 percent in the country, the production of cocaine as a substance grew by 1.5 percent.
This suggests an increased concentration and growth of cocaine production in significant regions in Colombia. Strategic regions to cocaine production are Nariño, Cauca, Antioquia, and Norte de Santander. In Norte de Santander, coca crops grew by 84 percent between 2018 and 2019. There are fewer regions ideal for cocaine trafficking and production given the increased number of actors and the broad criminal landscape of Colombia. Resultantly, the CJNG is not only dependent on Colombia but on specific regions that are responsible for the majority of drug trafficking. It is highly likely that conditions in Colombia are evolving towards a closer relationship or a confrontation between the different actors.
Growth in Criminal Actors
It is highly likely that the CJNG will take advantage and destabilize specific regions in Colombia to strengthen the flow of drug trafficking in the next 12 months. The conflict in Colombia is focused on strategic drug-trafficking and coca plantations, like Nariño, Cauca, Norte de Santander, or Antioquia. This causes criminal actors to be increasingly concentrated in strategic regions, thus incentivizing conflict and displacements, which have indeed increased since 2016.
There have been 77 victims of attacks in Cauca and Nariño in 2020 and 50 in Antioquia. An increase in conflict reduces the government’s capability to intercept or deter cartels from continuing to export cocaine from Colombia. Following the coronavirus pandemic, a rise in violence will highly likely be viewed as an opportunity for the CJNG to interfere and increase its footprint in the country both in terms of increasing its trafficking capability and in decreasing the risk of law-enforcement obstacles.
The CJNG will likely attempt to decrease the influence of the CDS in Colombia. Caparrapos in Antioquia — particularly in Dabeiba, Uramita, and Cañasgordas — are being financed by the CJNG in order to expand the drug trafficking corridor. The CDS holds technology-trading relationships with the Gulf Clan in Caucasia and drug-trafficking relationships with the Gulf Clan in Magdalena.
In Putumayo, a group called “Mafia Sinaloa” allegedly operates with the Sinaloa cartel in the production of cocaine paste. In the regions of Nariño and Antioquia, conflicts between armed groups are being sponsored by both Mexican cartels, with a division growing between a Sinaloa and a Jalisco sponsorship.
The CJNG has a triple target; to exacerbate the conflict; to destabilize the influence of the CDS in Colombia; and to increase the rate of cocaine’s flow.
These conditions create a vicious circle: violence promotes the rate and quantity of drug-traffic, which in turn increases competition amongst cartels and violent actors, which further increasing violence. Thus, the CJNG will likely keep feeding into this vicious circle in order to generate favorable conditions for its operation in Colombia.
This article was written by Iñigo Camilleri De Castanedo and originally published on Grey Dynamics.