Authorities in Colombia have seized a record seven ton shipment of cocaine destined for the Netherlands in the northern Caribbean port of Cartagena, a haul likely linked to the Urabeños, who are feeding the European market.
Members of the antinarcotics police discovered the shipment on April 8. Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon said they found the cocaine aboard a ship destined for the Dutch port of Rotterdam, reported AFP. The nearly seven ton shipment was hidden in a container carrying pineapple pulp, according to RCN.
“This is perhaps one of the biggest drug seizures in the history of Cartagena,” Pinzon said. According to Reuters, this is the largest cocaine haul in Colombia since 2008, when 10.5 tons of cocaine was found in the nearby port of Barranquilla.
With the most recent seizure, some 13 tons of cocaine have been found in Colombia’s ports so far in 2014, already surpassing last year’s annual total of nine tons, reported El Tiempo.
As Mexican drug cartels have grown to dominate the United States cocaine market, Colombian criminal groups have looked to Europe as an alternative market. Spain has traditionally been the principal point of entry for drug shipments, but Holland and Belgium have also become important entry points for Colombian cocaine, which is often shipped out of Ecuadorean ports.
Although the Mexicans have also begun to challenge Colombia’s domination in Europe, Colombia’s fragmented Rastrojos criminal group appear to retain a significant presence in Spain, and there are signs Colombia’s dominant criminal organization, the Urabeños, are developing a significant interest in the continent. A suspected Urabeños leader arrested in Spain last year allegedly planned to set up new drug routes and an “oficina de cobro” debt collection structure, while news reports in August 2013 linked four tons of Europe-bound cocaine seized in Ecuador to the group.
It is highly probable the most recent shipment seized belonged to the Urabeños. Cartagena is the capital of Bolivar state, which was once the stomping ground of former Oficina de Envigado head Maximiliano Bonilla, alias “Valenciano,” and the Paisas criminal group. However, Valenciano was arrested in 2011, and the majority of Paisas members have since defected to the Urabeños, leaving the territory largely under their control.
The massive seizure comes as Europe prepares to lift the Schengen Area visa requirements that currently restrict the passage of Colombians (and Peruvians) through the region, a development which could further facilitate the expansion of the Urabeños and Colombian organized crime.