Bolivia Boosts FELCN Capabilities as Coca Cultivation Expands
By Dialogo October 01, 2012
Bolivia has begun retooling its anti-drug agency known as FELCN (Fuerza Especial de Lucha Contra el Narcotráfico) to confront coca production moving into remote areas of this Andean nation, as well as a jump in Peruvian cocaine being transported via Bolivia.
Felipe Cáceres, deputy minister of social defense and the government’s point man on anti-drug issues, said his government is equipping the FELCN with new planes and helicopters, and will soon implement a new radar system. Speaking to reporters in late September, he said the changes are necessary as cocaine production has expanded into remote areas that are inaccessible by road in jungle departments such as Beni and Pando.
“Around 60 percent of the drugs seized in come from Peru. The chemicals used in cocaine preparation allow us to determine the origin,” Cáceres told the press, adding that he’s seen an uptick in the number of Peruvians arrested with cocaine in Bolivia and vehicles crossing the border with cocaine.
In one case last year, Bolivian authorities detained a group of Peruvians dressed in FELCN uniforms and transporting more than 50 kilograms of cocaine. The case made headlines, because one of the men arrested is an accused member of Peru’s Shining Path terrorist group who escaped police custody in early 2010.
Peruvian authorities confiscated a small plane Sept. 15 carrying 349 kilos of cocaine; nine days later they seized a second plane with 250 kilos. Both aircraft were registered in Bolivia, and both were stopped on remote, clandestine airstrips in the Peruvian Amazon.
UNODC: Traffickers diversifying routes
Flavio Mirella, director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Lima, said Peruvian traffickers have opened new routes to get cocaine out of the country to expanding markets in the region, particularly Brazil.
“There has been a diversification of routes,” he said. “In addition to the maritime route in Peru, there are now land and air routes to get cocaine to the Southern Cone through Bolivia.”
About one percent of cocaine entering the United States reportedly comes from Bolivia. Most of the illicit drugs produced in Bolivia are destined for regional markets or Europe.
In the first six months of this year, the FELCN seized 24 tons of cocaine, destroyed 700 clandestine drug-producing laboratories and arrested more than 2,300 people on drug-related charges. Troops eradicated some 8,000 hectares of coca plants, from which cocaine is made, through mid-September.
Bolivia sees 12% drop in 2011 coca production
Bolivia has 27,200 hectares of coca, ranking it third in world coca and cocaine production after Colombia, which has 64,000 hectares and Peru, with 62,500 hectares, according to the UNODC’s latest 2012 report. In addition, Bolivia allows 12,000 hectares to be grown for legal consumption, for chewing and in brews.
In its report, the UNODC cited a 12 percent drop in Bolivian coca production in 2011, noting “significant reduction due to effective cooperative coca reduction and eradication.” Coca cultivation in the country’s traditional growing areas, the Chapare, in the department of Cochabamba, and Yungas, in the department of La Paz, fell 15 percent and 11 percent, respectively, last year.
The Bolivian government welcomed the UNODC report, with La Paz recognizing it as “an important tool to plan and carry out strategies to control illicit drugs, and sustainable, integrated development in coca-producing regions.”
The government of President Evo Morales champions the ancestral uses of coca and even waged a battle to have coca removed from the 1961 U.N. Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. The government warned in 2011 that it would denounce the accord and then rejoin, but with formal reservations concerning coca. That plan was rejected by most member nations, including Colombia and Peru.
The International Narcotics Control Board has opposed Bolivia’s effort to remove text related to coca from the 1961 convention, stating that it would open the door to a relaxing of all international counternarcotics mechanisms.
Bolivia decertified for fifth year in a row
The U.S. government has also expressed concern that Bolivia has not done enough to combat illicit crops and drug trafficking.
While Washington recognizes that Bolivia has reduced illegal coca used to make cocaine and interdiction efforts have seized more cocaine, the concern is over incremental increases that have seen coca crops increase almost annually for more than a decade — from a low of about 14,600 hectares in 2000 to a high of nearly 31,000 hectares in 2010. This year’s UNODC report, released on Sept. 17, marked the first substantial decline.
U.S. government report also estimates that Bolivian traffickers have also improved production techniques and are now able to produce three times more cocaine per acre of coca than in Colombia. The market value of coca leaf rose from $310 million in 2010 to $353 million in 2011, or about 1.5 percent of Bolivia’s gross domestic product.
Bolivia was only one of three nations that were not certified in the annual White House report on the world’s top drug-producing and transit countries.
Released Sept. 14, the report certified the efforts of 19 countries, but claimed that Bolivia, Burma and Venezuela had “failed demonstrably” to meet standards. This marks the fifth year in a row Bolivia has been included on the list.
It is quite gratifying to see that still we can fight against drug trafficking. This problem has caused a lot of damage to families around the world. Congratulations and the fight must continue.