A drug bust in Arica, Chile, turned up more than $12 million worth of cocaine that was bound for Spain, Reuters reported on Friday.
Three suspected traffickers were arrested, two of whom are confirmed Spanish nationals.
According to officials cited by Reuters, the antinarcotics operation took place in the port city of Arica in northern Chile on July 23.
The drug gang was reportedly part of an international group of traffickers that was moving drugs from Colombia across South America to a final destination in Europe.
The three men arrested are all foreign nationals, Reuters reported. One Colombian and two Spaniards were detained for possession of more than 632 pounds of cocaine with an estimated street value of over $12 million.
The arrested men will remain in custody while police carry out a 60-day investigation of the case, after which the suspects are due to face trial.
While Europe, and Spain in particular, is a major destination for Latin American narcotics (especially cocaine), Chile has not been a major departure point for drugs going to the continent.
According to the 2016 EU Drug Trafficking Report from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), South America’s major transshipment points are Colombia, Venezuela, and Brazil. The report also notes that drugs are also moved from Ecuador and from the Southern Cone region, Argentina in particular.
Drugs are moved to Europe by both sea and air. Transport by sea is particularly important, as it allows traffickers to move significant quantities of drugs on both commercial and private vessels with relative discretion.
“An important development has been an increase in the use of containers on commercial vessels to ship cocaine, making detection more difficult,” the report notes. “Since 2006, maritime seizures that involve containers have increased sixfold, with a particularly steep increase since 2010.”
Western and Southern Europe receive the majority of the drugs sent to the continent. “In 2014, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Italy reportedly accounted for 80 per cent of the 61.6 metric tons of cocaine seized in the European Union,” Insight Crime noted.
The trafficking rings that move drugs from Latin America to Europe are extensive, often involving personnel and criminal organisations on both sides of the Atlantic.
One operation carried out by Colombia, Italian, and US authorities yield 144 arrests of people allegedly working in Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama, Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Chile, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and Italy.
The ring was reportedly led by suspected members of ‘Ndrangheta, a powerful Italian criminal organisation, and included members of Colombian rebel group ELN, who provided security for drug labs and smuggling routes, and members of Colombian criminal groups known as BACRIM, who controlled ports where the drugs would be sent to points in Central America and the Caribbean.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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