COLUMBIA: BURGEONING COCA INDUSTRY IN NORTE DE SANTANDER

Created: 8/17/2000

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Special Intelligence Report

Crime and Narcotics Center

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Colombia: Burgeoning Coca Industry in Norte de Santander

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NCewly emerging coca growing area in the northern Colombian department of Norte de Santander.oca cultivation had nearly tripled in the region and numerous cocaine base laboratories and chemical transshipment points had been established

Special Intelligence Report documents

the locations of cocaine base laboratories and chehucdl transshipment points throughout much of the Norte de Santander coca growingolombian National Police offensive in this area in0 resulted in the destruction of numerous laboratories and coca fields, however, substantial coca cultivation and processing capability remains.

Small But Significant Growing Area

The Norte de Santander coca growing area is located in the northern most part of the department with the same name, and shares it's northern and eastern borders with Venezuela. The coca growing area encompassesquare kilometers, orectares, in an area roughlyilometers wide byilometers long. The region extendsorth-south fashion nearly parallel with the Rio Catatumbo and its tributaries and is characterized by rolling and hilly terrain with elevations up toeters

The slopes of the Cerros de Bobali form the western boundary of the growing area while an all-weather road and oil pipeline mark ihe southern boundary.

Foot and pack animal trails comprise the primary transportation infrastructure in the area; the growing area also is accessed via one all-weather road from Tibu, the primary population center and the municipal capital, andair-weather road paralleling the Rio Catatumbo from just west of Tibu. The municipal airfield at Tibulandestine airfield located at the northeast edge of the growing area are the only known airfields servicing the growing area.

Coca cultivation and cocaine base processing are the primary economic activities of Norte de Santander, but some cattle ranching and oil exploration facilities also are present

This reportprepared by the DCI Crime and Narcotics Centeromments andwelcome and may be directed lo theon

The Norte de Santander growing area suddenly emergedhen CNC estimatedectares were under cultivation. Prior to that time, this area wasemote, sparsely forested area with some oil exploitation along the eastern boundary. Traffickers and growers, recognizing the high coca potential of the area, the easy availability of chemicals from Venezuela, and limited governmentalarea has long been one of the insurgent National Liberation Army (ELN) areas ofto rapidly increase coca plantings.ultivation in this area had increasedectares. Laborers for harvesting the coca probably arrived from the nearby urban centers of Tibu and Cucuta. While no recent population data is available, the traditional thatch roof huts of the indigenous population have been replaced with numerous contemporary houses and structures.

Paramilitaries began toorce in the area9 and are currently

contesting the ELN for control of the cocaine industry and associated profits. Q

in the growing area.

The distribution of die base laboratories closely correlates with coca fieldthe majority of the labs are located within areas of high density coca cultivation I

Although open-sided, the laboratories in Norte de Santander are generally substantial structures, similar to those found in the Guaviare, and typically measure abouteters long andeters wide. By contrast, many of the base laboratories in the Putumayo growing area are simply thatch covered huts.

While all of the identified base labs appear as if they could be

We believe that not all of the labs are operating at

once but most likely depend on when their associated coca fields are being harvested. The average leaf yield of Norte de Santander is believed to be similar to that of Putumayo, and would have resulted in potentiallyetric tons of leaf being producedut if allase labs in Norte de Santander were in full production,etric tons of leaf could have been processed. Clearly, cocaine base laboratories in Norte de Santander have excess processing capacity.

Cocaine base laboratories ate much more numerous in None de Santander than theemote jungle area that developedearly pure coca economy in thehe higher concentration of labs in Norte de Santander can be attributed to this area recently being developed by traffickers specifically for coca cultivation and processing. The more dispersed cultivation in Guaviare also resulted in more dispersed laboratories with probably less excess production capacity. In contrast lo (he other growing regions, Putumayo was first an area of legitimate cultivation that evolved into coca cultivation and processing in the early andhe area required few base laboratories to process the small amount of coca grown As coca expanded in Putumayo. processors began to construct more laboratories, resulting in numerous, small, and difficult to detect base laboratories with probably less excess total production capacity as compared to Norte de Santander.

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region

Base laboratories in the northern, western, and southern sectors of the area were largely untouched by Operation Molilon One-third of the destroyed labs were two kilometers of the primary road from Tibu in the eastern side of the area.

in the northeastern comer of the area was

identified and destroyed during the operation. Because high levels of chemicals and cocaine products apparently move freely into and out of Venezuela on the Catatumbo river system, destruction of the

airfield probably will have minimal impact on the

earercent reduction in lab processors' capabilitiesarge reduction in coca growers' capabilitieshree week period should beesounding success, it is likely mat without sustained government pressure on this well-developed coca growing region the cocaine trade could soon return to previous levels.

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