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El Chapo's Sinaloa Cartel, Colombia's FARC linked in Panama

A married Mexican couple helped "El Chapo" Guzman further spread his influence to Central and South America.

By Andrew V. Pestano
El Chapo's Sinaloa Cartel, Colombia's FARC linked in Panama
Drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's Sinaloa Cartel worked with Colombia's FARC rebel group in Panama, according to authorities. A Mexican couple is accused of helping Guzman expand his cartel's influence into Panama. Photo courtesy of Mexico's Attorney General

MEXICO CITY, Nov. 4 (UPI) -- A drug trafficking link between Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's Sinaloa Cartel and Colombia's FARC rebel group has been revealed by authorities in Panama.

In an 18-month-long investigation that concluded Friday, Panamanian authorities confiscated about four tons of cocaine, more than $500,000, five speed boats and 38 vehicles. More than 50 people were arrested and processed in Panama.

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The investigation, coordinated with Mexican and Colombian authorities, was confirmed by Panama's National Police and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, El Universal reported.

Guzman allegedly visited Panama at least twice about seven years ago while he was on the run, leading Panamanian authorities to suspect Guzman's Sinaloa Cartel of operating in Panama.

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"We have detected Mexican drug cartels associated with the FARC," Omar Pinzón, director of Panama's Police, told El Universal.

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The case stems from a married Mexican couple working for the Sinaloa Cartel who previously lived luxuriously in Panama City. According to authorities, the couple established a drug trafficking business relationship with Martín Leonel Pérez Castro, known as Richard -- leader of the FARC's Front 30 unit who was arrested in 2014.

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Pérez Castro allegedly controlled about 60 percent of the FARC's drug trade to buy weapons and other materials for the rebel group's insurgency campaign. Front 30 operates in Colombia's southwestern Valle del Cauca province, which has access to the Pacific Ocean -- making it easier to traffic drugs to Central America and Mexico.

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Panama is working to extradite the unidentified Mexican couple accused of helping expand Guzman's cocaine trafficking network.

In July, Guzman escaped from a Mexican maximum security prison for the second time using a mile-long tunnel, which could have taken a year to build.

"El Chapo" -- meaning "The Short One" or "shorty" -- so dubbed because of his 5-foot-6-inch frame, was captured in Guatemala in 1993 and then extradited to Mexico to face murder and drug trafficking charges. He escaped from prison in 2001 by hiding in a laundry cart after bribing prison guards, and was re-captured in February 2014.

In September, Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, also known as FARC, agreed to a peace deal deadline -- setting up the possibility of ending the longest-running armed conflict in the South American continent.

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More than 220,000 people have died and 5 million have been internally displaced due to the Colombian conflict since the FARC's founding in 1964. The militant rebel group has been involved in drug-trafficking, kidnapping and other illicit activity to fund its insurgency campaign.

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