Why Does This Matter
Colombia’s cocaine industry is of crucial importance to the drug-trafficking industry. The pandemic created a criminal vacuum in Colombia which criminal actors took advantage of, including the Jalisco Cartel (CJNG). Although there was a presence the CJNG in Colombia pre-pandemic, relationships and violence appear to be growing significantly:
- The CJNG is highly likely dependent on Colombia to maintain the economic structure of the cartel. There is a lack of alternatives in coca-producing states. This and the pre-established trafficking routes make it highly likely that the CJNG places Colombia as a key driver in the growth of the Cartel.
- 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 organisations in the South-West. This exploits the conflict in Colombia between different criminal factions, 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 leans Colombian non-state actors to support the CJNG, reducing corridors and capability for the CDS.
Why Is This Important?
Violence is rising in specific regions in Colombia. Following the peace negotiations with the FARC in 2016, a power vacuum occurred in Colombia where 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 partake in the negotiations. During the pandemic, Cauca saw an increase of 29% in violence against civilians. Ex-FARC cells have reportedly disputed territory in the south of Cauca during July and August, while 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 monetised 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% 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’ influence.
The group purchases the substance in Colombia for a maximum of $5,000 while in Mexico it’s a minimum of $15,500. The purchasing price of Cocaine in Colombia is multiplied by 25 when sold in the United States. The conditions in Colombia almost certainly incentivise the CJNG to expand its business to a more lucrative territory.
TheCJNG uses different types of routes to transport the substance into Mexican soil. The air route commonly leaves from Zulia in Venezuela and arrives at airstrips in Guatemala and Honduras, where the substance is transported by air or land onto Mexican soil. Contacts within the Venezuelan air force and governmental positions 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 stems 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 capacity to store 3 tonnes of cocaine. The shipment seized of 1Kg was worth $18 million. The methodology and cost employed are indicators of two drivers; the CJNG’s resolve in gaining a foothold in Colombia and their dependency on Colombian drug corridors and production.
Colombia is highly likely the only viable actor which has the capability to provide the CJNG with its cocaine demand. In 2019, Colombia reportedly provided 70% of the global cocaine supply. Between 2017 and 2018, 90% of cocaine trafficked out of Colombia was destined for the United States. In 2019, although coca crops reduced by 9% in Colombia, the production of cocaine as a substance grow by 1.5%.
This suggests an increased concentration and growth of production of cocaine 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 84% between 2018 and 2019. There are fewer regions ideal for cocaine trafficking and production with an increased number of actors due to the broad criminal landscape of Colombia. The CJNG is not only dependent on Colombia but on specific regions which are responsible for the majority of drug trafficking. It is highly likely that conditions are evolving to a closer relationship or a confrontation to grow in Colombia.
Growth in Criminal Actors
It is highly likely that the CJNG take advantage and de-stabilise 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, causing criminal actors to be increasingly concentrated in strategic regions, incentivising conflict and the displacements which have increased since 2016.
There have been 77 victims of attacks between Cauca and Nariño in 2020, while just in Antioquia there have been 50 victims. An increase in conflict reduces the governmental capability to intercept or deter cartels to continue to export cocaine from Colombia. A rise in violence following the pandemic is highly likely projected as an opportunity for the CJNG to interfere and increase its footprint in the country, both to increase its trafficking capability and decrease 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 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 destabilise the influence of the CDS in Colombia and to increase the rate of the flow of cocaine.
The factors affect each other simultaneously; violence promotes the drug-traffic rate and quantity, which increases competition amongst cartels and violent actors, increasing the violence again. The CJNG will likely attempt to interfere to generate favourable conditions to operate in Colombia.