Colombia announces seizure of 116 tons of cocaine

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An official in Colombia inspects packages with cocaine on a seized submarine in the city of in Buenaventura on March 20, 2021

Colombia said Tuesday it had seized 116 tons of cocaine in joint military operations with countries of the Americas and Europe.

The drugs were seized between May 15 and June 30 in air and land operations and in the waters of the Caribbean, Pacific and Atlantic, authorities said.

In total, 539 people of different nationalities were arrested, and 69 boats, three semi-submersible submarines and five aircraft captured.

"The coordinated, multilateral struggle embodied by Operation Orion, Phase Seven, results from the capacity of all countries to understand that together we can be more effective in dealing with drug trafficking", President Ivan Duque said.

Operation Orion, which started in 2018, involved Colombia and 38 other countries in the Americas and Europe.

Troops participated from Germany, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, the United States, Spain, France, the Netherlands, Panama, Paraguay and Peru, among other countries.

Colombia is the world's biggest producer of cocaine, derived from the coca leaf, ahead of Peru and Bolivia.

According to the United Nations, Colombia last year had 143,000 hectares of illegal coca plantations with the capacity to yield 1,228 metric tons of cocaine.

Duque, in power since 2018, has made the fight against drug trafficking a priority and has launched a plan to halve coca plantations -- which reached a record 171,000 hectares in 2017 -- by 2023.

A recent UN report said nearly half of Colombia's coca plantations in 2020 were in protected areas such as national parks or indigenous reserves.

And much of it was found in the restive border area with Venezuela, where armed groups and drug traffickers operate.

The United States, a major funder of the war on drugs, is the main consumer of Colombian cocaine.

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