Colombia and Mexico launch secret plan to curb cocaine flow

Image copyright Alamy Image caption A Colombian exotic-dancing club owner says his Hombre Guaro has curbed the amount of cocaine being taken across the border into Mexico Drug traffickers in Colombia are trying to…

Colombia and Mexico launch secret plan to curb cocaine flow

Image copyright Alamy Image caption A Colombian exotic-dancing club owner says his Hombre Guaro has curbed the amount of cocaine being taken across the border into Mexico

Drug traffickers in Colombia are trying to curb the amount of cocaine being smuggled into the United States through a popular nightclub.

In the latest such effort, drug enforcement agents and coca farmers in Colombia have set up a network of secret pill storage rooms.

Founder Carlos Lopes tells BBC Mundo the “hippos” are being “put on birth control”.

It is one of more than a dozen interdiction attempts at a time when coca production in Colombia has fallen.

In Mexico, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is also considering a “counter-narcotics plan”.

There have been three major seizures in the last few days alone, bringing drug traffickers $235m (£194m) in cash and 71 tons of cocaine.

New plan

Mr Lopes, a former bouncer at international casinos, has been a driver of some of Colombia’s most spectacular drug eradication efforts.

Last week he set up a “hippo” at a club called Hombre Guaro in the city of Santa Marta in the south-west.

Image copyright BBC Mundo Image caption Juan Felipe Moreno, centre, is one of the artists who runs the club

He is partnered in that venture with José Luis Hernández, a wealthy businessman who owns other exotic clubs including the famous Pacifico in the San Blas township.

To try to limit cocaine production there too, Mr Hernández has built an underground network of birth control pill storage rooms, like those previously used by drug cartels in Central America.

Image copyright BBC Mundo Image caption Ricardo Giraldo’s body was dragged 30km (19 miles) from the El Barretal jungle in the Colombian Amazon after he was kidnapped in 2015

These can store up to 50,000 pills – 80% of the amount found in a huge stash of Colombian cocaine in a bag dumped on the Mexican border in 2012.

“Dogs do find it [the containers] sometimes, but as far as we can tell, they just incinerate it to be sure. We’re setting up systems like this in all our hotels and clubs,” Mr Lopes tells BBC Mundo.

Inside the hippo’s network, agents from the country’s anti-narcotics agency COPINH take about two years to replace each new batch of pills, using sedatives to kill off the pill sniffers.

Drug crops in Colombia

Despite cocaine being a staple diet in much of Colombia, being used there for cooking, smoking and ingesting, in recent years violence has replaced supply side issues.

Historically, the recent resurgence of large amounts of other drugs such as cannabis and stimulants like methamphetamine has meant the debate has switched to production.

This is also a key issue in Mexico, where Mr Lopez Obrador made combating the Mexican drug cartels a key election campaign promise.

Image copyright BBC Mundo Image caption Alberto de la Cruz was a member of the Secretariat of Narcotics under President Juan Manuel Santos

The Mexican daily El Universal has described the country’s efforts to stem the flow of cocaine as a “counter-narcotics plan”.

During his victory speech, the president admitted he would be less free of ties to the drug trade than previous presidents.

For Alberto de la Cruz, the director of the Colombian Human Rights Observatory, the climate for public servants has become “worse and worse”.

Mr de la Cruz has called for elections in Mexico to be brought forward to accelerate further law enforcement.

He pointed to the example of Bogota, which moved up its general elections due in April to 3 December 2017.

“There are more than 17,000 criminal elements in Mexico who are financed and armed by large drug cartels,” he told BBC Mundo.

“We have no excuse in Colombia to not have laws and justice without our own investigation. It’s not the Guatemalan model of doing things. It’s not the Guatemalan [Marcos] Perez administration’s model.”

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