Latin American Officials Fear Connection Between Colombian Rebels and Mexican Drug Cartels

Mexico's powerful drug cartels are buying drugs directly from Colombia's main rebel group, a senior Colombian defense official said Tuesday at a hemispheric meeting on crime.

"We are particularly worried about the strengthening connections between Mexican cartels and the FARC," Jaramillo said. "The Mexican cartels are buying directly from the FARC."

He identified the finance chief as Oliver Solarte, a member of the 48th Front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which operates on the border.

Jaramillo refused to give more details, saying he didn't want to compromise intelligence reports. He spoke at the inauguration of a two-day security meeting of the Organization of American States in Mexico City.

Ecuador broke diplomatic relations with Colombia on March 3 over a cross-border raid by Colombia on a FARC camp that killed a top rebel leader and 24 others. The camp was located in an area where the 48th Front operates.

Jaramillo said the FARC controls most of Colombia's cocaine trade, though right-wing paramilitary bands and other mafias are also involved.

The FARC in recent years has often operated on the Ecuadorean side of a highly porous jungle border. It smuggles arms and other supplies into Colombia and smuggles out much of the cocaine that funds the rebels' more than four-decade-old insurgency.

U.S. officials say, however, that Venezuela has become the FARC's preferred cocaine smuggling route.

OAS leader Jose Miguel Insulza said drug trafficking and other organized crime, like kidnapping and people smuggling, are among the greatest threats to the region's stability.

"It is an epidemic, a plague on our continent that kills more people than AIDS or any other known epidemic," he said. "It destroys more homes than any economic crisis."

Mexican President Felipe Calderon called on representatives of 34 countries, including U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, to form a "continental front" and develop a regional database on criminals and their activities.

"We must attack simultaneously not only drug smuggling, but the world's main market" in the U.S., Calderon said.

He again called on the U.S. government to do more to prevent contraband weapons from crossing into Mexico and being used by drug gangs.

"Let's stop the flow of weapons and money that have allowed violent crime to flourish," he said.

Insulza praised Calderon for sending more than 20,000 soldiers to take back territory controlled by the country's powerful drug cartels.

Drug gangs have responded with unprecedented violence against each other and the government. On Sept. 15, drug hit men allegedly threw grenades into a crowd of Independence Day revelers in the western city of Morelia, killing eight people and injuring more than 100.

On Monday, banners allegedly signed by drug cartels were mysteriously hung in several states. They condemned the grenade attacks in Morelia and offered rewards for the capture of cartel enemies.