Translated by Yaqui for Borderland Beat from Proceso
By Rafael Croda
Tumaco is a municipality of Colombia with the largest amount of coca leaf crops: 28 thousand hectares that can produce 190 tons of cocaine a year. Its port is currently the main Colombian drug outlet to the United States, Europe and Asia, and is at the same time the largest drug supply center for Mexican cartels. After the withdrawal of the FARC from this territory, different criminal gangs wage a war for their own control, a struggle that Mexican drug trafficking organizations feed with money and arms.
TUMACO, Colombia (Proceso) .- The information that a criminal delinquent gave to the police was precise: on a bank of the Mira River, only 12 kilometers southwest of the urban center of the port of Tumaco, five Mexicans had stored a large amount of cocaine to be sent to the coast of the Mexican state of Colima.
Port City of Tumaco, Colombia
"They are from Sinaloa (allegedly from the Sinaloa Cartel) and gathered two tons, they moved it near a creek to a hiding place under the ground," said the informant, who had attended a meeting in which Mexicans, who were moving into the Tumaco region discretely, to close a deal with their Colombian partners.
According to an intelligence report of the National Police of Colombia (PNC), to which this weekly (Proceso) had access, the Mexicans negotiated the drug price at $1,800 per kilo, which means that the total transaction was for $3.4 million dollars to be paid in cash to its suppliers, half to be received with the first delivery at a house near the bank of the Mira River and the rest to be paid at the completion of the delivery of the two tons of cocaine.
The money came to them by a boat which had picked up two sacks thrown over board from a fishing boat in the Pacific Ocean, not far from the Tumaco coast, and transported the bundles down the Mira River to the Mexicans in a mangrove swamp.
Typical Cocaine "Processing Facility" in the Colombian Jungle
The five "Sinaloa" envoys were led by a tall, white man with a thick mustache and long hair called Puma. The other four were of brown complexion; two of them were called Polo and Flaco.
However low a profile they wanted to maintain, they were foreigners. Their appearance attracted attention in an area where 90% of the population is of African-descent. With their Mexican accent, they stood out to any Colombian.
The informant told a PNC intelligence agent that the Mexicans moved through Tumaco - a fishing and oil port on the Pacific - between December and January. In addition to collecting cocaine, they hired four boats to transport the drug to Mexico along the route of the Mira River and the Pacific Ocean.
Lancha Rapido or Fast Boat
Outfitted to Outrun LEOs
Each boat had four 200-horsepower engines. They are the go-fast or fast boats. ( Lanchas Rapidas ) The transportation service fee was set at $100,000 dollars per boat.
A PNC source estimated that the Mexicans invested some $ 4 million in the cargo and that upon arriving in Mexico, its value would reach $20 million dollars and $50 million dollars when it crossed the border into the United States.
"The Mexicans keep most of those profits, but what stays here (in Tumaco) is a lot of money and that money is being used for arms for the war between criminal gangs," says the source consulted.
The Colombian partners of the "Sinaloa" envoys were identified by the informant as members of "Los Urabeños", one of the names with which the most powerful Colombian criminal gang, whose paramilitary origin, is known. The other names are "Clan Úsuga",
"Gulf Clan" or "Autodefensas Gaitanistas of Colombia" (AGC).
"Clan Úsuga" has resisted an operation in which 2,200 police officers have participated in for two years and three months. It is decimated, but its leader, Dairo Antonio Úsuga David, alias "Otoniel", has not been captured. It not only maintains a presence in almost all of Colombia, but it is the criminal band with the greatest firepower that is is fighting for the territories which were left after the FARC Guerrillas signed the long negotiated peace agreement with the Colombian government last November 2016.
One of the prominent scenes of this territorial war is precisely Tumaco, a strategic corridor for drug trafficking because of its access to the Pacific Ocean by dozens of jungle rivers surrounded by abundant vegetation.
Campesino / Farmer with Harvested Coco Leaves
Tumaco is the Colombian municipality with the largest amount of coca leaf crops, with about 28 thousand hectares, 15% of the country's total, according to PNC estimates. This is three times that of 2013.
With this extension of plantations, which have the potential to produce about 190 tons of cocaine a year, and with the strategic conditions offered by that port to drug traffickers, Tumaco has become the main Colombian point of exit of that drug to the United States , Europe and Asia.
Coca Paste in Process
Tumaco is the largest supply center of Mexican cartels.
The five Mexican "Sinaloa" were not captured. When the informant gave the location of the precise cove it was too late. They had not only left Tumaco, but indications are that they had been able to ship their cargo successfully.
Weeks later, data from the investigation led to the capture of a gang from Tumaco which provided eight tons of cocaine each month to the Mexican cartels of Sinaloa and Jalisco Nueva Generación, (CJNG).
Luis Andrés Jilón Romo, aka "Carlos" or "El Compadre", was arrested in the operation. The PNC director, General Jorge Hernando Nieto, identified him as the main link of the Colombian gangs to Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada García, a leader of the Sinaloa Cartel and Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, "El Mencho", leader of the CJNG.
Patterns of war
In a city where human rights activists are being killed and threatened, the Social Pastoral of the Diocese of Tumaco is one of the few institutions that raise their voice to denounce how drug trafficking has ended up breaking the social fabric in whole neighborhoods and how the Territorial war waged by several groups is causing a bloodbath in which the population is in the middle of crossfire.
Last April the ministry released a document stating that because of the high unemployment, rate, which exceeds 70% among young people, "coca leaf crops have become the largest and best work option."
JOBs: Coca Leaf Farming or Killing
"It is very difficult for a young man without a job to say "no" to criminals who offer him a gun and a monthly salary of 700 thousand pesos (Colombian or about $250 US dollars) so they end up killing and trafficking drugs," says a community activist who asked to remain anonymous for fear of being killed.
30% of FARC's Guerrillas Were Women
plus Many Child Soldiers
For the Social Pastoral of the Diocese of Tumaco there is no doubt that Mexican drug cartels are one of the factors contributing to the violence in which the city lives and a very important source of the financing which the criminal bands receive to make war.
In a document that the humanitarian organization made public last month the Sinaloa Cartel is described as one of the "armed groups in the territory."
The report points out that between 2005 and 2013 there was talk of "New Generation, Black Eagles, Los Rastrojos, Los Gaitanistas, Los Urabeños, and the Sinaloa Cartel". Between January and March 2017 information began to circulate about Clan Úsuga, Clan del Golfo , The Company, Pacific Clan, Gaitanistas, People of Order, and once again, The Sinaloa Cartel .
They all wage a fierce territorial dispute aimed at controlling the millionaire cocaine business whose origin, paradoxically, is the peace agreement signed by the Colombian government with the FARC last November.
Ivan Marqez Lead Peace Negotiator in Havana, Cuba for FARC
FARC's Guerilla War : 52 Years
As a result of this pact, 6,884 guerrilla fighters left the areas where they were operating to concentrate on 26 points in the country where they are disarming. The spaces they left are those that other armed actors have begun moving into more freely.
Police do not believe that the Sinaloa Cartel and the other Mexican cartels - Los Zetas and CJNG - support a particular group, but work with the one that offers the best business deals.
"The gunmen of the Mexican cartels do not come here.. The managers come , those who do the business deals, and many of them do not get here, they do business from elegant hotels in Cali or Pasto (the capital of Nariño, the municipality to which Tumaco belongs), " says a Intelligence agent of the PNC.
However, the community activists believe that the Sinaloa Cartel has been involved in assassinations and "account adjustments".
"There is a direct connection between some homicides and the Sinaloa Cartel. This is what the people say that live in the areas where Mexicans have been seen. It is definitely a group that has supported violence not only in Tumaco, but in other regions of the Nariño Pacific ; for example, in Satinga," says a social leader.
PNC's anti-drug director, José Ángel Mendoza, points out that the FARC's exit from the drug corridors has generated a power vacuum that the criminal gangs are trying hard to fill while the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas group maintains a peace dialogue with the government in the city of Quito, Ecuador.
"Because drug trafficking is a transnational crime, Colombian organizations seek alliances with international organizations, including Mexican cartels, which are a source of funding;
although we have not detected that they are directly generating violence here." he says.
Mendoza, who remained in Tumaco much of April to lead the offensive against criminal gangs, recognizes that the presence of Mexican cartels in this region of Colombia that borders Ecuador is increasing "and we are increasingly capturing more Mexicans here."
The Danger zone
The struggle of paramilitary organizations of Renacer and AGC; The Pacific Clan; The United Guerrillas of the Pacific and the People of Order - the latter two specifically are made up of FARC dissidents - and the ELN's Suroccidental War Front have the civilian population in a permanent state of anxiety.
Some 300 families have been displaced this year by violence. Between January and the past Thursday May 25, 2017 there were 71 murders, one every other day on average. This is too high an index for a city of 202,000 inhabitants. It is 3.5 times higher than the average in Colombia and higher than that of the three most violent countries in Latin America: El Salvador, Venezuela and Honduras.
The vicar of the diocese of Tumaco, Arnulfo Mina, says that this year the number of murders has shot up: "Here, in this church, I had three coffins of the executed in a single day, and this has happened in other parishes. There have been 11 dead in the morgue in one day. That is amazing. If the government does not do something, there will be more bloodshed," he says.
For the Catholic priest there is no doubt that Mexican cartels " are feeding this conflict with their enormous resources, that's the information we have, it's what our people say."
Each time, he says, "there are more reports that some Mexicans are seen around here, and I do not think they are doing much tourism."
What most worries Father Mina is "the arrival, in recent months, of many unknown people who claim to be from the Gulf Clan (or AGC) of La Empresa (criminal group from the port of Buenaventura, 300 kilometers northeast of Tumaco), and are locating in many peripheral neighborhoods".
He says that armed groups of 50, 70 and up to 100 men recruit youths and FARC dissident militias who did not take part in the peace process. "They have evicted families from their homes and now they occupy them," says the priest.
Father Mina considers the fundamental problem to be the abandonment of the State because there are no viable ways to extract the traditional agricultural products - cocoa, banana, the ivory nut - and commercialize them.
"Instead, the coca leaf will be bought from the farmer where he sows it, and it pays much better; but because it is bad money, people go crazy, start to use the cocaine, turn to or promote prostitution, and that causes a lot of social destruction and a culture of easy money".
In Tumaco the heat of noon is born with sweat. Many men walk through the streets in sandals and without shirts and women wear light clothing. High temperatures and humidity do not give way. The children swim and bathe in the rivers, in the Rosario, the Mira, the Patía. The old aqueduct only supplies water to the city every 10 days.
With so many waterways and fishing activity, much of the population grows up on its rivers and on the sea. Boats are a usual means of transportation and in many cases the only ones available to entire communities lost between the mangroves.
Thousands of "tumaquenos" are well acquainted with the intricate river routes that lead to the flats and mangrove covered areas and the deltas of the rivers Mira and Patía, which in turn are composed of numerous estuaries. It is not unusual that fishermen and / or boatmen who know that exuberant coastal area since childhood end up working for the drug traffickers.
According to PNC estimates, at least 10 tons of pure cocaine are shipped out of Tumaco by boat each month to Central America, Mexico and the United States. In the latest market, that amount of drug product reached a value of 250 million dollars.
This 10 Year Old Map has not changed that much
"This is what is behind the tragedy of Tumaco: the drug business; and what we need to counter that effect is social investment, " says Father Mina.
The Pacific breeze refreshes the city in the late afternoons. Before dusk the bay looks magnificent, with a reddish glow that covers it. On El Morro island are the bases of the police, the army and navy, as well as the tourist area of this city called the Pearl of the Pacific. Beyond, on the mainland, lies the vast area of danger.
This report was published in the 2117 issue of Proceso magazine on May 28, 2017.