BOGOTA — Police in Colombia have arrested 34 members of a major drug trafficking network that smuggled tons of cocaine a month into the United States through Venezuela, officials here said Thursday.
Officials said the coordinated drug bust extended to 10 of Colombia's 31 states, called departments, and also involved traffickers in neighboring Venezuela.
"It was an international organization dedicated to drug trafficking along the Colombia-Venezuela-US corridor," Defense Minister Rodrigo Rivera told members of the media here.
One of the hubs of the operation was in the central Colombian department of Meta, infamous for its thriving drug trade, Rivera said.
He said the arrests were made with the help from the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).
The drug trafficking ring was led by two brothers who inherited the network from Daniel Rendon Herrera, alias "Don Mario," who until his capture last year was considered Colombia's most powerful drug trafficker since Pablo Escobar, killed in 1993.
"Don Mario," who rose through the ranks of right wing death squads, assumed control of drug trafficking routes relinquished by the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) paramilitary when they demobilized in 2006.
His brother, Freddy Rendon -- alias "the German" -- commanded an AUC unit, but "Don Mario" was believed to have derived his strength from ties he forged with Mexican drug lords.
The AUC disbanded following peace talks with the government of former president Alvaro Uribe.
Officials said Daniel Rendon broke with the AUC to lead his own drug trafficking network with smuggling routes through Venezuela and the Caribbean.
"With this operation the entire structure of this organization dedicated to producing and exporting drugs is affected," said Rivera.
He said the network exported five tons of cocaine chlorhydrate a month, by land and sea, from the northern Colombia coast and Bogota to Venezuela and the United States.
The bust followed the capture a month ago of Walid Makled, a Venezuelan who was number three on a US list of most wanted drug traffickers.
Makled, who was arrested in the city of Cucuta on the border with Venezuela, was accused of belonging to a Colombian drug trafficking network that sent more than 10 tons of cocaine a month to the United States and Europe.
Colombia was the world's leading cocaine producer until last year when Peru took the top spot, according to a UN study.
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