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The forever war

BOGOTA, Colombia — One reason why victory in the war on drugs remains elusive is the ability of narcos to adapt to changing circumstances.

For every advance by law enforcement officials, cocaine producers and traffickers invent new tricks in an endless game of technological leapfrog.

A decade ago when their illegal stashes aboard aircraft were increasingly being confiscated, the bad guys began paying human "mules" to smuggle drugs in their stomachs. These couriers would swallow 100 or more latex-wrapped capsules of cocaine — a sometimes deadly practice that inspired the 2004 movie "Maria Full of Grace."

More recently, the United States Coast Guard has gotten better at detecting drug-filled go-fast boats heading to the U.S. So, the smugglers went underwater. They began moving some of their cocaine in submarine-like vessels called semi-submersibles.

Now comes news that drug laboratories are going mobile.

Most powder cocaine is produced in rustic jungle kitchens where coca leaves are mixed with gasoline, acetone, uric acid and other chemicals to form a thick paste that is futher processed and dried in microwave ovens.

But as Colombian police and army troops home in on these labs, the narcos are hitting the road. Today's El Tiempo reports that police in Cundinamarca state, which surrounds Bogota, have confiscated seven transport trucks that served as moveable drug labs.

Authorities say that trucks filled with coca paste and drug-making chemicals ply the roads after dark and park at innocent-looking produce farms and cattle ranches for about a week as workers cook up the drugs. These same trucks later exit the farms loaded down with plastic-wrapped blocks of cocaine.

So far, authorities have arrested 12 people. One of the detained drivers hid two and a half tons of contraband chemicals in the back of a rig supposedly carrying sanitary napkins.

"That's part of the beauty of smuggling — the game constantly changes," writes K. Hawkeye Gross, a former American trafficker, in his book "Drug Smuggling." "Quick adaptation ensures continued success."