Colombia: Drug Gangs Down But Not Out


September 15, 2007: Police and army commandoes tracked down (in the southeastern jungle) and captured drug lord Diego Leon Montoya Sanchez. He was the head of the largest cocaine operation in the country, one that shipped several tons of cocaine and heroin to the U.S. each month. Montoya ran the North Valley cartel, which has been the top drug operation for over a decade. The North Valley operation used the defunct AUC as muscle, and suffered enormously when the AUC made peace with the government. This, and internal rivalries, led to a civil war several years ago, that left over a thousand dead. The Montoya faction won, but the government now had the inside track on a lot of the cartel's operations. In the last year, several major cartel leaders have been caught. The capture of Montoya is expected to trigger another civil war within the North Valley cartel, and thus more opportunities for the government to damage the organizations drug operations.

Government success in destroying the large cartels has led to the rise of many more smaller operations. For these mini-cartels, the drug business isn't as profitable, and it's more dangerous, but the money is still good enough to attract new operators. These new cartels are more secretive and harder to detect and infiltrate. But they are less able to bribe officials and hold ground. The smaller cartels are more at the mercy of their hired muscle (usually FARC), and more likely to be detected by American anti-drug activities.

While the drugs continue to move north to the U.S. and Europe, the drug gangs have been forced to adapt to growing government pressure. For one thing, there's a lot less violence. Police and army units are quick to respond to any large scale violence, or show of force, by the drug gangs. This has greatly reduced the murder rate. As a result, the economy is booming, and the drug gangs have to pay more to attract the people they need. The government is winning its war against the drug gangs, but the war is far from over.

The government refused an offer by Hugo Chavez, president of neighboring Venezuela, to mediate with FARC for the release of prominent kidnap victims, for jailed FARC officials. Chavez is seen as an ally of FARC, and sponsor of other leftist movements in South America.




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