, BOGOTA, Colombia, May 16 – Colombian police have seized eight tons of cocaine from the country’s main organized crime ring, the largest ever haul in the nation’s history, the president said Sunday.
“Congratulations @PoliciaColombia: operation in Turbo have seized the largest amount in our history. A crushing blow to the criminals,” President Juan Manuel Santos said on Twitter.
Police said in a statement that they found the cache “of approximately eight tons of cocaine belonging to the Usuga Clan” hidden in a banana plantation in Turbo near the Panamanian border.
Soon after sunrise Sunday, 50 police commandos supported by two Black Hawk helicopters burst into the plantation.
There they found 359 canvas sacks loaded with packs of cocaine hidden in a small cubicle under a cement cover 2.5 meters underground.
Police said that the drugs belonged to one Colombia’s most notorious criminals: Roberto Vargas Gutierrez, alias Gavilan (meaning “hawk” in English), the clan’s number two man.
Three suspects were arrested and another three escaped, the statement read.
Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas said that nearly 1.5 tons of cocaine were wrapped “and ready to go out to the export market.”
He said the drugs had “a New York street value” of $250 million.
Villegas confirmed this was the largest seizure ever of cocaine on Colombian territory, though there may have been slightly larger seizures at sea.
Authorities say the Usuga Clan, which emerged after the mass demobilization of right-wing paramilitaries a decade ago, ships tons of cocaine from Colombia to Central America and on to the United States.
The Uraba border region where the latest haul was seized has a long history of smuggling and drug trafficking.
Santos, who has launched a crackdown on the country’s criminal gangs, announced in early May “record” seizures of 87.5 tons of cocaine in the first few months of 2016.
Santos has authorized “all of the state’s forces” to fight groups like the Usaga Clan, including through the use of aerial bombardments.
Colombia is the world’s leading producer of coca, the raw material from which cocaine is processed.
According to the UN, Colombia exported some 442 tons of cocaine in 2014.