Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Even if Colombia Negotiates Peace, the Influence of Organized Crime Will Remain

"Socalj" for Borderland Beat

According to NGOs such as the Institute of Studies for Development and Peace (Indepaz), more than 70 massacres have been perpetrated in Colombia, with the departments of Nariño, Cauca, and Norte de Santander as the epicenter of these attacks. In addition to this, armed criminals have assassinated 1,351 social leaders since the signing of the Final Peace Agreement in 2016; of those cases, 124 occurred during this year alone.

Behind these deaths and massacres, there are several armed groups, all of them with a common goal: to have territorial control and drug trafficking routes that are disputed not only by local gangs but also by transnational cartels. Several Colombian-based criminal groups have indicated that they are willing to enter into dialogue with the new government of President Petro and carry out a ceasefire. Clan del Golfo, Los Rastrojos Costeños, and ELN are willing to submit to the justice of the government of Colombia.

Newly elected President Gustavo Petro, a former M-19 guerrilla has expressed willingness to negotiate peace and de-escalate the drug war in Colombia.

President Petro's Peace Talks

"A drug trafficker who negotiates legal benefits with the Colombian State and definitively stops being a drug trafficker, will not be extradited," President Petro stated. Despite this proposal, the president maintained the position he had expressed since his inauguration on drug policy. Petro gave the order to "end a negative policy in relation to drugs that is to fumigate peasants, to impose themselves on peasants to forcibly eradicate crops."

"We proposed that drug traffickers who do not negotiate with the State will be extradited, drug traffickers who negotiate with the State and re-offend will be extradited without any type of negotiation in the United States," Petro explained. In this sense, those involved in the illicit business would acquire legal benefits only if a dialogue is established and they will not pay a sentence in the North American country.

While peace talks appear set to restart with Colombia's largest criminal threat, the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional - ELN), it is far from certain how other groups will react. One other major criminal group is divided over the issue of peace. Los Urabeños, also known as the Clan del Golfo and the Gaitanist Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia - AGC), have seen dissent within their ranks with several factions rejecting their overall leadership's willingness to talk.

The ex-FARC Mafia presents its own set of challenges. With most of their traditional leadership decimated over the last year, this loosely connected network is made up of more than 30 different groups. These armed gangs, which all dissented from the FARC peace process in 2016, carry a distrust of the government. The killings in Huila, as well as a previous attack on a Petro security team in Norte de Santander, shows that much of the ex-FARC Mafia may have no interest in negotiating.

How Petro reacts to these challenges, whether with force or restraint, could decide the future of Total Peace. In recent years, however, there has been a theory that Mexican cartels are gaining ground in Colombia. Even President Gustavo Petro has even warned by the government of Iván Duque about the presence of these gangs. Even in 2020 Duque questioned that a good part of the profits of these actors had been invested in national politics.

Mexican drug cartels, such as CDS and CJNG, have become increasingly involved in the production of cocaine in Colombia, growing beyond being customers and smugglers.

Mexican Drug Cartels Moving Downstream

Top Mexican cartels like the Sinaloa Cartel and Jalisco Nueva Generacion have long purchased cocaine from Colombia's guerrilla groups and criminal gangs. Members are present with a robust network for sending cocaine from Central America to Europe and the United States. According to anti-narcotics investigations, these groups buy the drug in the Colombian Caribbean and pass it through the border with Venezuela to send it to Mexico, and from there to the United States. Mexican cartels in fact make up the actors that represent the most danger to communities in areas where drug trafficking has a high influence, being the possible authors of many of the deaths in Colombia.

Don Berna’s extradition to the US in 2008 led to a fracturing of his crime empire and reshaping of relations among the Mexican cartels and the leftover and new Colombian groups. The Mexican cartels increased their presence to manage their drug supply operations within the reconstituting Colombian criminal landscape.

Three large Mexican Cartels (CDS, CJNG, and remnants of Los Zetas) would be present in areas such as Cauca, Chocó, Valle, and Nariño supported by the Clan del Golfo. Cartels purchase both coca base and high-grade cocaine from the Clan del Golfo, as well as National Liberation Army (ELN) rebels, and former members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerilla group who reject a 2016 peace deal, security sources in the police and army said. But more recently, Mexican cartels have increased their influence on the production side of cocaine coming from Colombia as opposed to being simply the buyers of the illicit narcotic.

Just like in Mexico, CJNG sought to persuade small and large Colombian crime groups, like Los Urabeños, to stop selling to the Sinaloa Cartel. To counter the push, the Sinaloa Cartel augmented the presence of its top emissaries in the country. Critically, the effort to cut out the Sinaloa Cartel intensified violence among the local Colombian allies and proxies of the two cartels, as the Sinaloa Cartel and CJNG both prodded their Colombian allies to expand their territorial control at the expense of the allies of the rival group.

CJNG did not succeed in marginalizing the Sinaloa Cartel in Colombia, though it did cut into its operations. The international bipolar war between the two Mexican cartels still shapes local Colombian conflicts. Moreover, the Mexican cartels help fuel Colombia’s re-escalating conflicts by paying their Colombian suppliers for cocaine in high-quality weapons.

Emissaries of Mexican drug cartels are involving themselves more closely in cocaine production in Colombia, paying farmers in advance and pushing the cultivation of highly-productive strains; coca growers, security officials, and rights activists say. 

The cartels have driven significant changes in the varieties of coca being planted, sending cocaine production higher. These developments in how coca is grown have contributed to the increased quantity and purity of cocaine trafficked to both the United States and Europe.

Just recently, in September 2022, a 2.6-ton cocaine shipment was seized in Venezuela coming from Colombia and belonging to both the Sinaloa Cartel and CJNG. The commander explained that the transfer would be to the country of Belize. From there, the packages would be distributed to the CJNG and the Sinaloa Cartel, who would take care of their transfer to the interior of Mexican soil and then arrive in the United States. Reports even indicate that a part would be sent to Europe.

According to Giuseppe Lumia of the Italian Parliamentary Antimafia Commission, 'Ndrangheta clans are actively involved in the production of cocaine.

Italian Organized Crime Groups Moving Upstream

Also in Colombia, emissaries of Sicily's La Cosa Nostra and Calabrian-based 'Ndrangheta, would be present. Italian involvement in the cocaine trade even pre-dates the rise of the Colombian cartels, with records of Mafia members arrested in Brazil for cocaine trafficking as far back as 1972. Including factions or families from Sicily, Canada, and the United States.

But the Italians that proved the most adept at moving in the new cocaine trade were not one of Italy’s infamous and storied Mafias like La Cosa Nostra, but the ‘Ndrangheta, a relatively minor federation of crime family clans from the impoverished region of Calabria that has grown exponentially in recent years thanks to the international cocaine trade.

These migrant crime clans not only dedicated themselves to crime but also set up legal businesses as fronts for illegal activity and laundering money. Among them were export companies, which the Italians used to ship cocaine to Europe in cargo and containers – what would become the main method of shipping cocaine to Europe. This upstream presence allowed the ‘Ndrangheta to cut out the independent brokers and control more of the supply chain directly.

Los Urabeños have had strong ties to the ‘Ndrangheta dating back to the 1990s when the group’s future leaders were still part of the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia - AUC). It was an alliance that would help both groups to dominate the trans-Atlantic cocaine trade. Around 2001, evidence showed the Italians were buying cocaine from Salvatore Mancuso, a commander of the AUC, in Colombia at $3,000 a kilo and then organizing its shipment through Colombian ports and via Venezuela to Europe, where it would fetch prices up to 15 times higher on the wholesale market.

Mancuso, in turn, went into the business with the Italians in Colombia, even opening an Italian restaurant in the Caribbean city of Barranquilla frequented by mobsters and local elites alike. And as the paramilitaries negotiated their demobilization with the Colombian government, he sent one of his personal fixers to Italy to scout property deals.

“[Mancuso] is at the end of the peace process, and they will surely give him a couple of years in prison, then after he is coming to Italy,” Mancuso’s chief Mafia business partner told his son. Mancuso did not get his retirement in Italy, at least not yet. He was instead extradited to the United States in 2008, where he served a 12-year prison sentence on drug trafficking charges. 

By 2006, as the AUC was coming to the end of its demobilization process as part of a peace deal with the Colombian government, the ‘Ndrangheta was handling up to 80% of European cocaine imports, according to a report commissioned by Italy’s anti-Mafia commission.

“The ‘Ndrangheta have brokers in these countries, typically in Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, and Costa Rica, and these brokers try to organize the sales from these countries using legal businesses,” said Maurizio Catino, an expert on the Italian mafia and author of the book Mafia Organizations. “In these countries, there are ‘Ndrangheta logistics cells for trafficking cocaine through the movement of goods for export to North America and Europe,” he added. ‘Ndrangheta clans don’t usually rely on non-Calabrian brokers, preferring to deal with family members from their home region, yet there are exceptions. 

Additional DTO Groups

Venezuela is the principal transit nation for Colombian cocaine moving into the Caribbean and then onto Europe, as well as some illegal air traffic to West Africa. Despite international sanctions and constant US pressure, President Nicolás Maduro’s grip on power appears undiminished. Venezuela's Cartel de los Soles, refers to the corruption and drug trafficking groups within the armed forces of the Nicolás Maduro regime has also crossed borders into Colombia. This failed state is not only facilitating the cocaine trade but has also become a regional crime hub led by senior figures in the Chavista regime. Here there is zero resistance to the flow of cocaine to Europe.

Albanian criminals are now well placed, and their importance in the cocaine trade in Europe is likely to grow. “The Albanians have had quite a meteoric rise in the cocaine trade, operating in many parts of Europe, the UK, and the Netherlands particularly. If anyone is going to have an advantage in the container trade, it is going to be the Albanians. They have a footprint in Latin America and at many exit points. They still conduct the face-to-face meetings by having people up in the region.”

Chinese criminal groups have been smuggling large amounts of Chinese-made cigarettes into Latin America and specifically Colombia. Smuggling occurs in the other direction as well with illegal wildlife poached in the region and exported for sale in Chinese markets. Some Chinese criminal elements will likely increase their penetration into local economies accompanying the more legitimate and legal Chinese commercial activity.

It is most likely that these transnational organized crime and drug trafficking groups will look to fill the void of growing, harvesting, and processing cocaine in the region should the current Colombian-based players agree to peace negotiations and relinquish their drug empires. These outsider groups have no ties to local communities or governments. Also, their leaders are primarily located overseas and still wanted in their own countries. So peace talks would cut their supply networks down but that need would likely be filled more by their own people than by relying on local Colombian groups.


  1. Arriba la Chapiza Compas.

  2. Good reporting

    People undermine the presence and activities of Sinaloa and Jalisco in Colombia as well as the importance of Italians and Albanians these days in the coke trade. The Turkish mafia is also becoming more relevant here and are working directly with Venezuelan groups.

  3. Wouldn’t a more accurate section tittle be ‘Mexicans moving upstream’ instead of ‘downstream’?

    1. The cartels are moving down the supply chain to the farmers/production side of it. The Italians are moving up, from dealers/brokers to the suppliers.

  4. I don’t think purity levels in the us are higher or getting higher like is being claimed in other first world markets. Perico seems to be getting more expensive in addition to getting stomped on.

    1. In Europe, specifically the U.K. coke purity is higher but right now in the U.S. it feels like quality still hasn’t fully returned since the pandemic. In 2019 and very early 2020 shit was fire here in Southern Cal. April 2020 was the last time I actually saw some disco shit a.k.a. high purity blow.

    2. Its because the CDS supply chain never fully recovered and CJNG moved in one their markets, because of this CDS mainly pushes out stepped on work for southwest distribution viewing the east coast/mid west as their most important markets

  5. VIVA Argentina!
    Viva Evita Peron!

  6. "A couple of questions"
    AUC, PEPES, URABEÑOS, POLESIA NACIONAL (whose leaders were too busy peddling their academy cadets' prosticatalogo and enforcing cooperation with rapes amd murders)
    FARC, ELN, ETC ETC ETC, were too busy hiding from each other while colombian law enforcement murdered their government made famous Falsos Positivos headed by alvaro uribe velez, the Princess of the Urabá" who started his career with Pablo Escobar Gaviria in the civil aviation of culombia and ended a billionaire in dollars from working in government all his life, his own brother may still be in prison for heading his own death squad "los doce apostoles", many colombian army members and rival government officers have testified aboutnalvaro uribe velez' guilt, but 7 US army battalions (and some death squads I guess) protect his ass...while the "gaytanistas" carry on with the cause of Jorge Eliecer Gaytan murdered one day before his presidential inauguration...
    Venezuela refuses to allow their oil to be exploited by foreigners for nothing and that is their big Original sin that got them blockaded by the powers that be...
    I forgot the questions, but Alvaro Uribe Velez always asks reporters,
    "Alguna otra preguntita"?

  7. Free otoniel like memo fantasma.


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