The most dangerous condition for police officers, criminal investigators or prosecutors during a narcotics investigation in Colombia is not the geographical situation, number of criminals armed, the kind of weapons they have, or even how well trained the criminals are; the main risk is corruption.
Criminal organizations in Colombia have the capacity to buy whatever they want including the support of a whole town’s inhabitants, luxury properties, political positions, and peoples’ consciousness. It is unimaginable what drug traffickers can buy or corrupt with the money that they make in the cocaine business.
This special situation makes it more difficult to investigate criminal organizations’ leaders who are dedicated to drug trafficking and it also increases the social problems in Colombia.
Corruption due to narcotics trafficking has impacted both legal and illegal spheres in Colombia. As a result, poverty and crime rates have increased, creating major challenges for the Colombian government and its institutions. In addition, unequal opportunities have created a multitude of social and armed conflicts linked to an illegal culture where it is easy to earn money as drug traffickers.
Major Muñoz of the National Police of Colombia Is on the Front Lines
As a police officer in the National Police of Colombia for nearly two decades, Major Efren Muñoz has led teams that have worked in the most dangerous conditions as they have investigated and chased high-profile international drug traffickers. The work of the National Police of Colombia has included large-scale operations that have dismantled some of the most complex drug trafficking networks in the country.
For example, in 2011, Major Muñoz and his team dismantled the Alta Guajira cartel and arrested its leaders. In 2016, they were part of the Police Search Block, a strategy created by the national government to investigate, chase, and arrest the leaders of organized crime in Colombia. It was this kind of strategy by government that chased international drug king pin Pablo Escobar in the 1990s.
One of the greatest accomplishments of this Police Search Block was the arrest of one of the most wanted drug traffickers in Colombia, Oscar Pachón Rozo alias “Puntilla,” the main financier and leader of the organized crime armed group “Los Puntilleros.”
After a rigorous process of localization and judicial investigation, Puntilla was located in a rural area of the municipality of Cimitarra, in Santander department. He was prosecuted for the crimes of aggravated conspiracy, aggravated homicide, possession of restricted weapons for military forces use, and drug trafficking. During the operation police confiscated one M-4 rifle, one MP-5, one pistol, and one revolver along with 136 cartridges of different calibers.
Puntilla gained experience in the Colombian underworld as a caretaker of the capos’ expensive horses and as a hired assassin for the Medellín cartel. Later, he joined the Norte del Valle cartel and began to ascend the world of crime, setting up his own cocaine processing laboratories in Valle del Cauca and Caquetá departments. In the late 1990s, he began to buy large tracts of land in the eastern departments of Meta, Guaviare and Vichada. He also managed the drug trafficking routes to the United States and Europe.
Puntilla Kept a Low Profile While He Gained a Reputation for Violence
Puntilla kept a low profile for years avoiding authorities’ attention while he gained a reputation for violence and retaliations against people he considered threatening or unreliable. The investigation that led to the capture of Puntilla began in 2013, when the Antinarcotics Police discovered a cocaine laboratory in Mapiripán, Meta, that could process 500 to 600 kilograms of cocaine a week.
On February 26, 2016, this criminal leader was arrested by Major Muñoz’s special Police Search Block team. However, he regained his freedom in April 2017, when the General Prosecutor’s office announced that it was investigating possible irregularities in court decisions. When police investigators went to re-arrest him in December 2018, in an exclusive section of Medellín, Puntilla died in a shootout with the Police Search Block.
The Impact of Drug Trafficking on Corruption
According to Major Muñoz, the most difficult part of leading the investigation into the drug lord Puntilla was to prevent the collected information to leak to this capo. Puntilla paid off local police officers, judicial officials, and residents in the surrounding areas of his farm to immediately alert him of any police or army movements in the area. This corruption reflects the power of the drug trade.
Despite the power of money associated with drug trafficking, the Police Search Block maintained its integrity and ethical behavior throughout the investigation that ultimately led to Puntilla’s death. Ethical training in Colombia’s police academies has had a positive impact on maintaining high ethical and moral standards within the Police Search Block and the National Police of Colombia.
Throughout his honorable and highly decorated career of nearly 20 years, Major Muñoz has learned that the most significant risk to any criminal investigation is corruption. Leadership that guides Colombia’s drug trafficking investigations of cartels and drug kingpins is a driving force toward maintaining integrity and high ethical standards during these investigations against drug bosses who have the financial means to buy nearly anything they need to remain in power.
About the Authors
Dr. Jarrod Sadulski is an associate professor at American Military University. He has engaged in speaking engagements in the United States, Central America, and Europe on the topics of human trafficking, narcotics trafficking, police responses to domestic terrorism, and various topics in policing. Most recently, he presented at the 2019 International Human Trafficking Conference. His expertise includes infrastructure security, maritime security, homeland security contraband interdiction and intelligence gathering.
Maj. Efren Munoz is a member of the Colombian National Police with more than seventeen years of experience in police service and criminal investigation, especially in crimes related to transnational organized crime, money laundering, forfeiture assets, terrorism, and drug trafficking. The qualities which have supported his personal and professional career are honesty, responsibility, integrity, and leadership. He has held positions that have allowed him to know crime closely, giving him the ability to successfully lead investigative processes and police operations against international criminal organizations, while working together with international representation agencies placed in Colombia such as the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) of the United States of America.