Security and Foreign Policy

Ex-FARC Mafia’s Cooperation with Mexican Cartels Can Lead to a Mutation of the Transnational Drug Trade

Following the Colombian peace agreement, the country has faced numerous challenges in its implementation. Brittany Kaylor writes that one of the many fallouts has been the country's inability to clamp down on the drug trade, which is evolving as a result of former FARC members' cooperation with Mexican cartels.


Weak implementation of the 2016 peace agreement reached between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia [Spanish: Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia] (FARC) is causing former FARC members to re-involve themselves in the drug trade. Partnering with Mexican cartels allows the ex-Farc Mafia to lie low and continue making profits.

The recent elections on March 11, 2018, will put a significant number of candidates opposed to the peace deal in office, which has created serious uncertainty about the future of the accords, especially ahead of the presidential election later this year. It appears that opposition to the FARC peace deal was a key electoral strategy in claiming victory in the recent vote. Those opposed to the peace agreement continually attempt to politically undermine the progress of any related legislation, including failing to show up for votes. Therefore, there is a backlog of laws that have not yet been voted on by Congress, but that are necessary to implement the accords. These include bills to create the Special Peace Jurisdiction [Spanish: Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz], a tailored judicial framework for former guerrilla fighters. Once the new “anti-peace” candidates take office, their efforts are expected to intensify. If an opponent of the peace deal wins the presidency, it is possible the entire process could be severely delayed, if not completely scrapped. This possibility appears to be generating uncertainty among the ranks of ex-FARC dissidents, many of whom have already defected from the peace process in order to re-involve themselves in the drug trade. Thus, initiating the emergence of a new criminal network, the ex-FARC mafia.

Drug trafficking in Colombia appears to be mutating again as the civil conflict with FARC winds down. The recent arrest of an ex-FARC crime boss, Jefferson Chávez Toro, “Cachi,” demonstrates how former FARC members are likely to become dominant players in the transnational cocaine trade by cooperating with the Mexican Cartels. Cachi was one of the most wanted men in Colombia, as he was allegedly second in command of Los de Gaucho, a group of former FARC members that operate in the department of Nariño in southwest Colombia. The region is the main coca-producing area not only in the country but also in the world. According to Insight Crime, the Mexican cartels have been buying the services of local groups, including those of Los de Gaucho, who in turn have been recruiting Mexican agricultural engineers to increase productivity in the local coca fields. It appears the new plan of action for the Colombian networks is to lie low and allow the Mexican cartels to assume more of the risk in dealing with the U.S. market.

Doing business with the U.S., the largest cocaine consumer, “presents high risks of interdiction, extradition, and the seizure of assets,” according to sources. The Colombian drug trafficking networks have ceded the U.S. market to the Mexican networks in favor of European, Chinese, and even the Australian markets that have lower risks and higher profits.

Colombia appears likely to continue being a key shipment point for cocaine heading to Europe, as evidenced by its growing production figures and continuing seizures. According to the United Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), coca cultivation in Colombia jumped to 69,000 hectares [roughly 170,503 acres] last year, which is a 44 percent increase from 2013. This should not come as a surprise, considering that Colombian coca crops can be harvested up to six times per year, which is double the average number of yields in Peru, another well-known producer of cocaine.

Maritime transport is the preferred option for cocaine traffickers to Europe and traffickers are increasingly hiding cocaine in shipping containers aboard commercial vessels, which makes it harder to detect. According to the 2016 EU Drug Trafficking Report by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), seizures involving containers have reportedly gone up six-fold since 2006. As the ties between the ex-FARC mafia and Mexican cartels become more entrenched, the global drug trade is likely to mutate into a giant that will be harder to control. A combination of challenges lie ahead for the Colombian government as they are faced with sustaining the peace accords alongside combatting an evolving drug trade.

Brittany Kaylor is an Investigative Analyst who works on specialized projects that help to protect the national security interests of the United States. She has her M.A. in Global Affairs with a specialization in National Security from Florida International University (FIU). Previously, she worked as a Protective Intelligence Analyst and Regional specialist for Latin America.

Please note that opinions expressed in this article are solely those of our contributors, not of Political Insights, which takes no institutional positions.

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