Colombia's armed forces on Tuesday seized the largest shipment of cocaine so far this year, with 10 tons of the illegal drugs confiscated and two drug labs destroyed during an anti-narcotics operation.

Reuters reported that Colombia's defense minister Diego Molano said the cocaine and the labs found at Samaniego town in Narino province near the border with Ecuador belonged to leftist rebels National Liberation Army (ELN).

The defense minister noted that it was the most important drug bust in terms of cocaine seizures this year, exceeding the operation in June, which seized six tons. Molano noted that 10 tons would have seen the ELN receive more than $300 million.

In 2020, the Colombian government seized 580 tons of cocaine and cocaine base drugs. On the other hand, Forbes reported that coca cultivation and cocaine production numbers reached a record 245,000 hectares and 1,010 metric tons, respectively.

ELN is a large armed rebel group in Colombia founded as a Marxist-Leninist group in 1965. Apart from the ELN, security sources told Reuters that former members of the demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas who rejected a peace deal in 2016 are also involved in drug trafficking and criminal gangs.

Drug trafficking reportedly helps finance illegal armed groups in Colombia in the midst of a long-running internal armed conflict that has already left over 260,000 dead.

READ NEXT: Colombia's Most-Wanted Drug Lord Dairo Antonio Usuga Arrested; Pres. Ivan Duque Likened It to Capture of Pablo Escobar

Colombia's Drug Kingpin Captured

Last month, Colombia's armed forces captured the country's most-wanted drug lord Dario Antonio Usuga, widely known by his alias Otoniel.

Colombia's President Ivan Duque likened his arrest to the capture of late drug kingpin Pablo Escobar three decades ago, Business Insider reported

Duque noted that it was the "biggest blow to drug trafficking" in Colombia since the fall of Medellin cartel boss, Escobar.

Usuga is known to be the head of the notorious Gulf Clan or Clan del Golfo, whose assassins terrorized most of northern Colombia to secure the control of major cocaine smuggling routes to Central America and onto the U.S.

Gulf Clan is also called Los Urabeños, and Gaitanista Self-Defence Forces or Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia. The U.S. Justice Department has described the group as a "heavily armed, extremely violent" criminal group with former members of terrorist organizations.

Usuga has been on the most-wanted fugitives list of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, with a $5 million reward for his capture.

He has been allegedly sending dozens of shipments of cocaine to the U.S., killing police officers, recruiting minors, as well as sexually abusing children. U.S. authorities said Otoniel's group is the main Colombian ally of Mexico's powerful Sinaloa Cartel.

Otoniel now faces charges related to drug trafficking. He is also facing charges related to killing police officers, sexually abusing children, and recruiting minors.

People in Colombia Saw Ivan Duque's Statement as Media Stunt

Medellin resident Carlos Bohorquez said Ivan Duque's statement drawing comparisons of Otoniel to Pablo Escobar was a political stunt for the president to get some press attention and legitimize his administration.

Bohorquez noted that he has lived through the Pablo Escobar years, adding that Otoniel has nothing to do with it. But the Medellin resident said it does not mean that it was not a good thing that Otoniel was arrested and put behind bars.

The operation that led to the arrest of Otoniel in a rural area of the South American nation's Uraba region involved more than 500 members of Colombia's special forces and 22 helicopters. A police officer died.

Sergio Guzman, director of Colombia Risk Analysis, said Otoniel's arrest opened the doors to new players in the drug-trafficking field and has thrown away a monopoly.

Guzman said this has happened in the past after the demise of Escobar that has allowed paramilitary groups to expand into drug trafficking while also conducting extortion, kidnapping, and robberies. 

Guzman noted that the concern was not whether Otoniel was bigger than Pablo Escobar or not, but who will take up the seat that was vacated.

READ MORE: El Chapo's Sinaloa Cartel Continues to Thrive Despite the Drug Lord's Absence: Report 

This article is owned by Latin Post.

Written by: Mary Webber

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