BOGOTÁ, Colombia – Three suspected drug traffickers have been apprehended in Colombia and the United States in the past month during international operations seeking to arrest those accused of smuggling narcotics and laundering money in numerous countries, officials said. Claudio Javier Silva Otálora was apprehended last week in Puerto Gaitán, a city in eastern Colombia, during the initial stage of “Operation Pacific Basin.” Earlier this month, Franklin Alaín Gaitán Marentes was caught in Bogotá, and Ricardo Villarraga Franco was taken into custody in Miami, Fla. The three men are suspected of playing major roles in two big shipments of money confiscated in Colombia and Mexico in 2009, Gen. Luis Gilberto Ramírez Calle, chief of the Colombia’s Criminal Investigation Administration (Dijín), told EFE. The first shipment, valued at US$27.7 million was confiscated in Colombia’s Pacific port city of Buenaventura last year. A few days later, Mexican officials seized US$11 million in cash in Manzanillo. “We are talking about the most important operation of the past 15 years with respect to drug trafficking in Colombia,” Ramírez Calle told EFE. The arrests came as a result of a series of joint operations by Colombia’s Unaim drug control agency, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and law enforcement agencies from several other nations. “We have been working on this operation with the Attorney General’s Office and authorities in other countries,” Ramírez Calle told EFE.
Colombian army destroys huge cocaine laboratory
The Colombian Army dismantled a massive cocaine laboratory in a rural area of the department of Cundinamarca that had the ability to manufacture a ton of cocaine monthly, officials told AFP. The army’s 7th Brigade discovered the laboratory, which is suspected of belonging to drug gangs led by Pedro Oliverio Guerrero Castillo, in the municipality of Medina, according to a military report. “The clandestine hiding place has a value of about 250 million Colombian pesos (US$130,000) and it produced one ton of cocaine per month. This operation strongly affected the finances of the drug trafficking groups operating in the departments of Cundinamarca and Meta,” the report said.
Luis Agustín Caicedo Velandia, a suspected narcotics trafficker, arrested in Argentina
Luis Agustín Caicedo Velandia, who was wanted by the United States in connection with heading one of Colombia’s biggest drug trafficking syndicates, was apprehended in Argentina last month, according to officials from Argentina’s secret service and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Caicedo Velandia, who also goes by the alias “Don Lucho,” is suspected of leading the ruthless El Dorado cartel. The 44-year-old was apprehended at a shopping mall in Buenos Aires, prompting U.S. officials to file an extradition request with the Argentine government. “Along with the Cali and Medellín cartels, Don Lucho is one of the largest Colombian drug trafficking organizations,” Guillermo Marijuán, an Argentine federal prosecutor, told EFE. Caicedo Velandia was in possession of a counterfeit Guatemalan passport identifying him as Carlos Martínez Castañeda when he was taken into custody during a joint operation by Argentine Intelligence Secretariat agents and DEA agents. But officials confirmed Caicedo Velandia’s identity through his fingerprints and other information provided by the United States, Marijuán told Argentina’s Télam news agency. Marijuán said a federal court in the nation’s capital will preside over the extradition hearing of Caicedo Velandia, who is accused of heading a cartel that made US$180 million just between April 2007 and May 2008.
Juan José Pineda Vásquez, Genaro Pineda Rojas, both suspected drug traffickers, apprehended
Salvadoran officials have arrested two Guatemalan military lieutenants who are suspected of trying to smuggle a kilogram of heroin onto a plane bound for the United States, according to media reports. Juan José Pineda Vásquez and Genaro Pineda Rojas were taken into custody at the Comalapa International Airport in the nation’s capital in connection with trying to travel to New York with heroin stashed in two pairs of boots. The drugs, valued at US$72,000, were found in the form of 154 capsules that had been placed in the lieutenants’ boots and covered with socks on June 11, Jorge Cortez, chief of the Attorney General’s Office’s counter-narcotics unit, told Salvadoran daily El Diario de Hoy. “We’ve had foreigners who entered the country by land, but then tried to leave by air. In this case, the new thing is that members of the Guatemalan army are involved in international drug trafficking,” Cortez told the newspaper. Salvadoran officials have confiscated 1,178 kilograms (2,591 pounds) of narcotics valued at about US$12 million since President Mauricio Funes took office on June 1, 2009, according to the National Civil Police.