Four Mexican drug cartels top buyers and traffickers of Colombian cocaine, official says


BOGOTA (Reuters) - Mexico's Sinaloa, Jalisco Nueva Generacion, Zetas and Beltran Leyva drug cartels are the top buyers and traffickers of cocaine produced by criminal groups in Colombia, including current and former leftist rebels, according to a high-ranking Colombian security official.

The country at the northern tip of South America is one of the world's top producers of cocaine, largely consumed by customers in the United States and Europe.

Production provides key income to armed groups and fuels Colombia's five-decade-long internal conflict, which has killed more than 260,000 people.

Rebel group the National Liberation Army (ELN), ex-members of the FARC guerrillas who reject a 2016 peace deal and criminal gangs formed by right-wing former paramilitaries are all involved in trafficking.

"The Mexicans are the principal buyers of the supply of coca produced in Colombia," Rafael Guarin, presidential adviser for security told Reuters on Wednesday, referring to cocaine's base ingredient. "Fundamentally, the Mexicans take charge of the buying, trafficking and sale in the United States."

The cartels field "emissaries and negotiators and also individuals who verify the quality of the narcotics," Guarin said, adding that drugs are moved through Venezuela, via the Pacific or northern Ecuador to reach the United States.

Emissaries sometimes finance coca planting, he added.

The Sinaloa Cartel is the most active, Guarin said, and has alliances with the ELN, former FARC members and the Clan del Golfo crime gang.

The Zetas have connections to the Los Pelusos crime gang, which controls trafficking along Colombia's border with Venezuela, while Jalisco Nueva Generacion buys from a group in Buenaventura on the Pacific.

The Beltran Leyva cartel works with a gang in the southwestern province of Putumayo that also has connections to the Sinaloa cartel.

Colombia had some 154,000 hectares (380,000 acres) of coca last year, according to the United Nations.

It faces unrelenting pressure from the United States to reduce production, with President Ivan Duque pledging to eradicate some 130,000 hectares this year.

"It's a very pragmatic relationship for the cartels, which buy from whoever will sell," Guarin said.



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