A article published Saturday in El Tiempo documents the intertwined networks that exist between Colombia’s various neo-paramilitary groups, drug cartels, left-wing guerrillas, and a Russian trafficking syndicate, all of whom have entered into an alliance to move arms into Colombia while moving cocaine out.
According to El Tiempo, various illegal armed groups in Colombia have – despite historical ideological differences – managed to come to agreements to work together in the arms and drug trade.
“The [paramilitary] gangs bring in the arms and the [left-wing] guerrillas pay for them with cocaine and with permission to move about in their zones,” a diplomat focusing on the issue told El Tiempo.
Evidence taken from computers seized from the FARC reveals not only the connections between the FARC and paramilitary organizations which emerged after the demobilization of the AUC coalition, such as the relationship between FARC’s 30th Front and the “Los Rastrojos” gang, but also between the FARC and a Russian arms smuggling syndicate.
Authorities report that the notorious Russian arms dealer, Victor Bout, who was captured in Thailand in 2008 and is awaiting extradition to the United States, had dealings with the FARC. According to authorities, emails reveal a quote Bout gave to the guerrillas for the purchase of 10,000 AK-47 guns, which were going to be exported from a port in the Ukrainian city of Odessa, through the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, the Atlantic Ocean, the Panama Canal, and then via the Pacific Ocean into Colombia.
One of the groups responsible for recent arms imports to Colombia is the “Los Rastrojos” gang, claims El Tiempo. According to authorities, Jorge Alberto Rengifo, a member of the “Los Combas” branch of Los Rastrojos, who was arrested last week, is responsible for the largest shipment of arms into Colombia in the last ten years.
Investigations into Rengifo began in 2008, when an informant tipped-off police that a man, who was not on the radar of any police or intelligence reports, had just smuggled 4,000 Chinese-made assault rifles into the country, explains El Tiempo.
Shortly after the tip, police captured 557 of the Chinese-made, AK-47 knock-offs, corroborating the claims made by the informant.
According to El Tiempo, Rengifo negotiated the purchase of the weapons directly, making over ten trips in a year to Panama, and others to Argentina. The 4,000 assault rifles were then sold to both left and right-wing criminal groups across Colombia: 1,500 were distributed to Daniel “El Loco” Barrera’s gang; 1,000 to “Los Nevados,” 1,000 to “Los Rastrojos,” and 500 to the FARC.
Authorities say they have seized 1,663 of the 4,000 rifles that Rengifo smuggled into Colombia in 2008, in addition to 6,000 other arms seized during the same period across the country.
Some of these other arms include high-powered, bullet-proof-vest piercing handguns, produced in Belgium, that ended up in the hands of street gangs in Colombian cities. The article also mentions that gangs have managed to smuggle in a large quantity of rocket-propelled grenades, of which 40 were recently captured by police.