The Miami Herald
Fri, Sep. 02, 2005

4-ton cocaine cache seized in Bogotá

Authorities in Colombian made one of their biggest cocaine busts to date, uncovering 3.9 tons in a former diaper warehouse.

Associated Press

BOGOTA - Dozens of heavily armed troops stormed a former diaper warehouse in a residential Bogotá neighborhood, seizing 3.9 tons of cocaine in one of the biggest drug hauls ever in the Colombian capital, officials said Thursday.

Three suspects were arrested during the overnight raid on the unmarked building where the drugs were stashed, said Gen. Gustavo Matamoros, commander of the Army's Bogotá-based 13th Brigade. He said the drugs have an estimated U.S. street price of $80 million.

Matamoros told reporters the drugs likely belonged to the North Valley drug cartel and were going to be taken by land to the Colombian port cities of Cartagena and Barranquilla before being loaded onto ships bound for Europe.

Colombian and U.S. officials have said the North Valley cartel, which supplanted the Medellín and Cali drug organizations after their demise in the 1990s, supplies up to 60 percent of the U.S. cocaine supply.

The cocaine was found tightly wrapped in hundreds of small plastic packages, most bearing stamps of the devil, but some with cartoon images of Tweety Bird and Sylvester the cat. Drug traffickers often use such markings for identification purposes, counternarcotics officials at the scene said.

Large, metal cylinders used to roll flooring materials were also found in the warehouse, indicating the cocaine may have been hidden inside the rolls during transport.

Drug seizures of this size are not uncommon in the rural regions of Colombia where cocaine is processed, and on the coast where it is shipped abroad. But such busts are very rare in Bogotá, an inland city of seven million people that is largely removed from the country's flourishing drug trade.

The cocaine's presence in Bogotá indicated that the traffickers are using the capital as a new smuggling route through the north of the country, Matamoros said.

Security forces sealed off the area around the warehouse, which was used to store diapers until eight months ago, and barred journalists from entering.

Nearby shopkeepers said they saw trucks entering and leaving the warehouse at all hours, but that those working there were friendly and brought good business.

''A man named Jesús came here frequently to make long distance phone calls to Mexico and Venezuela. He spent a lot,'' said Marcela Alzate, 19, who works at an Internet café next to the warehouse. Other neighbors said they were told the warehouse held electronic appliances.

Colombia produced about 429 tons of cocaine last year, 90 percent of the world's overall production, according to U.N. estimates.