Bolivia Intensifies Anti-Drug Fight Following Police Chief’s Fall

By Dialogo
July 21, 2011

Bolivia has succeeded in striking a series of blows against drug trafficking in the last month, including the destruction of almost three hundred drug factories, following the fall of a powerful former anti-drug chief who pleaded guilty to exporting cocaine in a U.S. court.

The destruction of the factories and the arrest of a Colombian crime boss also coincided with the start of a new Bolivian campaign in favor of the decriminalization of traditional uses of coca leaf, the raw material for the drug.

“In recent days, there have been several very significant events working against this plague (drug trafficking),” Interior Minister Sacha Llorenti said at a press conference Monday, upon presenting a summary of recent police operations that he described as a “crushing blow” against drugs.

An official report emphasized that a “mega-operation” in the eastern department of Santa Cruz over the weekend led to the destruction of 281 small cocaine factories and the seizure of significant amounts of drugs and cash.

“It’s one of the most severe blows that drug trafficking has suffered (in Bolivia), not only in recent years, but in recent decades, and we’re going to continue,” Llorenti added, emphasizing that since the departure of the DEA, President Evo Morales’s administration is seeking to strengthen cooperation with the police of neighboring countries such as Brazil, Peru, and Chile.

The minister avoided confirming whether the recent anti-drug successes of Morales’s administration were related to the fall of the former head of the Special Force for the Fight against Drug Trafficking, retired police general René Sanabria.

Sanabria, who was a member of an elite state intelligence group when he was detained early this year in Panama, pleaded guilty to drug trafficking in June, avoiding a trial in which he might have been sentenced to life in prison.

Pleading guilty in a U.S. court is generally part of an agreement with the public prosecutor’s office to reduce the sentence in exchange for information that may help to convict others, local media have indicated in recent days.

Among the police operations of the last month, Llorenti highlighted the arrest of the Colombian Carlos Noel Buitrago Vega, alias “Porremacho,” an alleged leading drug trafficker who was deported at the end of June, to his country of origin, where he is expected to face “fifty trials for various offenses.”