BOGOTA, Colombia – Leftist guerrillas, a far-right paramilitary group and a drug trafficking organization all had a stake in 15 tons of cocaine seized in southwest Colombia (search), the largest haul ever in this South American country, police said Saturday.
The $400 million worth of cocaine was discovered by authorities Thursday hidden in a wood-lined underground chamber near the Pacific (search) coast. Found nearby were eight speed boats that likely would have been used to move the cocaine, originally estimated at 13.8 tons.
Judicial Police Chief Col. Oscar Naranjo said guerrillas, paramilitaries and drug traffickers each likely planned to pay an even share of the costs of transporting the huge shipment to the United States (search).
He said transport of the drugs was the only clear "union point" for the three groups. The outlawed rebel and paramilitary groups have been battling each other across Colombia, but apparently cooperate occasionally in drug trafficking to increase profits.
Naranjo said guerrillas and paramilitary groups rely on experienced drug traffickers for transporting the drugs, and by using them the costs and risks associated with moving cocaine thousands of miles are reduced significantly.
"These transportation organizations are specialized in getting the drugs, sending them to the high seas via speed boats and then moving them on to larger boats headed to Mexico for eventual entry into the United States," Naranjo said.
The paramilitary group involved was the Libertadores Bloc of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, while the guerrillas belonged to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, Naranjo said.
Five people were captured when the cocaine was discovered Thursday in the jungle in Narino state, which lies along the Pacific coast and the Ecuador border, but those arrested are bit players in the drug-running gang, Naranjo said.
Narino is one of Colombia's prime cocaine-producing regions. Colombia produces the vast majority of the world's cocaine, and a large share of it is controlled by the paramilitaries and their rebel foes.
Naranjo said Thursday's haul is the largest ever recorded on Colombian soil. In 2004, the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy seized 28 tons of Colombian cocaine on the open seas from two fishing boats off the coast of the Galapagos Islands.
Colombian police, often aided by U.S. counter-narcotics authorities, have made several major drug busts in recent years and a number of Colombian drug kingpins have been extradited to the United States to face trial. Despite these successes, the price of cocaine on U.S. streets has not risen, a sign that supply remains steady.