BOGOTÁ, Colombia – In their constant efforts to deceive counter-narcotics agents, drug traffickers have found another way to camouflage cocaine: diluting it.
The method recently was exposed in Bolivia, where agents from the Special Force in the Fight Against Drug Trafficking (FELCN) confiscated 13 kilograms (28 pounds) of liquid cocaine in the city of Abapó in the department of Santa Cruz on April 28. Authorities also seized 500 kilograms (1,102 pounds) of sodium hydroxide in 20 bags before arresting the driver of the truck transporting the narcotics.
“Drug traffickers will always try to use unconventional methods, because their goal is to deceive police controls so the substance can pass unnoticed,” Lt. Col. Fernando Amurrio, head of the FELCN in Santa Cruz, said during a media conference.
It’s easy to transform cocaine into liquid because the narcotic is highly soluble. Half a kilogram (1.1 pounds) of the drug can be diluted in a liter (0.26 gallons) of water. It’s also easy for liquid cocaine to be returned to its original state, as 90% can be decanted and filtered, according to FELCN.
A kilogram (2.2 pounds) of cocaine costs about US$1,300 in Bolivia, but it’s worth more in Argentina (US$5,000), Spain (US$60,000) and New Zealand (US$100,000), according to the Bolivian daily El Día.
Roberto Carlos Achá Arandia, a counter-narcotics prosecutor in Bolivia, said the trafficking of narcotics in their liquid forms is becoming more common throughout South America.
“The mules [people who swallow the drug to transport the merchandise] now carry it in capsules made out of condoms [to protect the drug and the carrier’s digestive system],” said Achá, according to El Día.
This type of smuggling makes the drug much harder to detect through the use of X-ray or ultrasound scanners, Arandia said.
One of the largest seizures of liquid cocaine was on board the “Guasare II” vessel, sailing under a Venezuelan flag, in international waters. During the operation, carried out in April 2008, the U.S. Coast Guard confiscated a shipment of 2,000 liters (528 gallons) of liquid cocaine, according to Mexican daily El Universal.
“Trafficking methods are like fads: What is hot today is cocaine in a solution, particularly in fuels,” said Hernán Bernal, coordinator of the Studies and International Relations Group of Colombia’s National Directorate on Narcotics, according to El Universal.
In March, Colombian National Police reported the seizure 276 kilograms (608 pounds) of liquid cocaine during an operation in the city of San Félix in the department of Antioquia.
“It is not usual to find [liquid cocaine], much less the level of purity found [by the police],” said Gen. Yesid Vásquez, commander of the Medellín Metropolitan Police, according to the website El Colombiano.com.
Vásquez said narco-traffickers are smuggling liquid drugs to the United States and Europe more frequently because they are easier to get through airport security checkpoints without detection.
On April 18, in the city of Barranquilla in the department of Atlántico, a drug-sniffing dog from the North Region Counter-Narcotics Company of Colombia’s National Police detected a 1,400-kilogram (3,086-pound) shipment of cocaine stored in seven motor oil containers on the ‘Seven Seas’ ship, sailing under a Honduran flag.
Meantime, on April 25 in Argentina, authorities stopped a Bolivian woman carrying five kilograms (11 pounds) of liquid cocaine in her luggage on a bus departing from the province of Salta, on the Bolivian border.
Police agencies worldwide are on alert.
Barcelona National Police arrested a Spanish man and Brazilian woman at El Prat Airport on May 2 after finding eight kilograms (17 pounds) of liquid cocaine had been injected into clothing and two insect repellent cans allegedly in the couple’s possession.