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Cross-Border Smuggling Fuelling Colombian Cocaine Production - Weekly

RedOrbit, September 25, 2006

Text of report: "Broken borders", published by Colombian weekly Cambio website on 25 September; subheading as published

In June of last year, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime [UNODC] alerted the Drug Observatory of the National Narcotics Directorate (DNE) about the huge quantity of chemical products which are smuggled in across the borders with Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela due to ineffective controls and the absence of the authorities.

As a result the DNE sent five agents to investigate in Putumayo, Norte de Santander, Arauca and Narino Departments, and in the Venezuelan and Ecuadoran towns mentioned in the UN report as the most vulnerable sites for trafficking in chemical precursors used to produce cocaine.

During the eight-month investigation, DNE officials confirmed the type of supplies, the modes of transportation and routes used, and identified, for example, that there are 22 sites along the 640-km border with Ecuador through which chemical products enter Colombia. "In every kilometre along the border we saw gallons of camouflaged chemical substances and their labels leave no doubt that they come from neighbouring countries," one of the investigators said. "We can confirm that 85 per cent of the supplies used to produce cocaine come in across the borders."

In order to bring in their supplies, drug traffickers use means ranging from human couriers to mules which are familiar with the road because, as one local merchant told Cambio, "on those roads one never sees a police officer from Colombia or from the Ecuadoran guard". The Ecuadoran towns which drug traffickers use most frequently for this type of smuggling include La Palma, La Estrella, Carchi, La Bonita and San Gabriel. But in addition to the traditional supplies being smuggled, however, investigators also detected contraband in herbicides such as Gramoxone, Parathion and Nuvacron. According to the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States, these three products are among the 75 most toxic and dangerous agrochemicals.

There are 13,875 hectares planted with coca in Narino Department and the processing centres are in municipalities such as Cumbitara, Policarpa, Buesaco and Ricaurte in the department's central and western regions. The authorities say they are battling against smuggling and that in 2005 they seized over 1,093 tonnes of solid supplies and 182,000 gallons of liquid substances used to process the drug.

However, efforts have not been enough to undermine the capacity of the FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] and the ELN [National Liberation Army]. According to official estimates, these two groups produce 44 tonnes of cocaine a year in that region. "The border is a problem," a police officer in Pasto told Cambio. "It is very hard to control it because there are few of us and assistance from the neighbouring country is minimal."

Northern Colombia

If it's raining in southern Colombia, it's pouring in the north: substances used to produce cocaine enter the country across the 2,216-km border with Venezuela. One example: in Arauca Department, where there are 8,000 hectares planted with coca, these substances come in on the Arauca and Apure Rivers and along trails from Puerto Lleras and Puerto Colombia. To mention just one case, one morning investigators watched how 100 drums roughly tied together were making their way along the Arauca River towards Arauquita.

A week later they found 50 drums and 80 bundles of chemical precursors hidden among thickets and palm leaves in the border town of Puerto Contreras in Saravena corregimiento, Arauca Department. They were 10,000 litres of petrol, 700 litres of sodium hypochlorite, caustic soda and ammonia. "This is very difficult to control because drug traffickers use the entire territory to bring in their supplies," Arauca Department Governor Julio Acosta told Cambio. "The same roads and rivers are used to move the processed drugs to Venezuela. In truth, there is very little we can do." The situation is no different in Norte de Santander Department. The authorities there estimate that the department has between 5,000 and 10,000 hectares of coca, that over 5,000,000 [unit not specified] in chemical supplies came in across the border in 2005, and that drug traffickers process close to 20 tonnes of cocaine a year. "Drug traffickers use the Catatumbo River to transport supplies," Norte de Santander Department Governor Luis Miguel Morelli explains. "We have asked the Venezuelan government to help us with this problem and we expect their assistance."

Similar situations occur along the borders with Peru and Brazil. "The ports of Leguizamo, Toledo and Arturo on the border with Peru are a headache," one investigator says. "And to say nothing of the Amazon River and the trails leading into and from Brazil. They are uncontrollable."

The problem is so huge that on 2 September Colombian Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos and Venezuelan Defence Minister Gen Raul Isaias Baduel discussed the need to come up with a strategy to curb smuggling along the border. And although Venezuela promised to help, some people believe that this issue is important now only because of the election campaign and will soon be forgotten. "Neither Colombia nor Venezuela seem interested in what is happening along the border," a person familiar with the region told Cambio. "They complain about it all the time but do very little."

(c) 2006 BBC Monitoring Americas. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.

Source: BBC Monitoring Americas