Authorities arrest 36 in Colombian cocaine gang

Fri Sep 2, 2011 3:14pm EDT
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By Eduardo Garcia

BOGOTA (Reuters) - A criminal gang capable of smuggling 10 tonnes of cocaine a month for Mexico's bloody Sinaloa cartel has been dismantled following the arrest of 36 suspects, Colombian authorities said on Friday.

The arrests have been hailed as a success of cooperation between Colombia and the United States, which has contributed with billions of dollars in aid to help the Andean country fight drug smugglers with links to Marxist guerrillas.

"I want to sincerely congratulate ... the public prosecutor's offices (of Colombia and United States), the police, the army (and) the air force, because this shows that our fight against drug trafficking is delivering accurate blows," President Juan Manuel Santos told reporters.

He said 36 people had been arrested in the operation, which followed on from the detention of 19 suspects last month that belonged to a gang that built submarines to smuggle cocaine out of Colombia, the world's top producer of the narcotic. He did not disclose where the arrests took place.

Some 21 aircraft were confiscated in the latest operation, which crushed a smuggling ring that supplied cocaine to Mexico's Sinaloa cartel, the most powerful organized crime gang in the Americas.

"This operation between the United States and Colombia has a direct impact that should relieve violence and drug trafficking in Central America and Mexico," said General Oscar Naranjo, the head of the Colombian police.

The security forces seized 5 tonnes of cocaine, more than $1.5 million in cash, and arrested some "big shots" who worked for the ringleader, Daniel "Mad" Barrera, who remains at large.

"The United States and Colombia are fighting against a new threat, the narco-trafficking organizations, and we'll dismantle them," Wifredo Ferrer, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, told reporters in Bogota.   Continued...