Bolivia’s Special Force against Drug Trafficking (FELCN, in Spanish) seized five light narco-aircraft during three counternarcotics operations conducted in Beni department in September.
“During Operation Hive [Operación Colmena], we seized 288 kilograms [of cocaine], in addition to 180 grams of cocaine hydrochloride, 180 liters of fuel, a ranch called Nuevo Mundo, and a light aircraft,” Bolivian Interior Minister Arturo Murillo said at a press conference on September 21.
Agents also seized five weapons, including an AK-47 rifle. Authorities suspect that the cocaine came from Peru and was bound for Brazil.
In the second operation, Blizzard (Operación Ventisca), the FELCN seized two light aircraft with cloned license plates, unspecified chemicals, and a ranch named Espíritu. Authorities also detained four Bolivian nationals.
Finally, during Operation Eastern Wings (Operación Alas del Oriente), service members confiscated two more aircraft.
“All these aircraft were micro-vacuumed [to determine whether they were used to transfer drugs]. And all of them tested positive,” Murillo said. “These blows we’ve dealt are very important, because all the drugs in Beni are moved by air.”
Bolivia is not only the third largest cocaine producer worldwide (after Colombia and Peru), but it has historically been a transit country for Peruvian cocaine bound for Brazil and Argentina, said the Elcano Royal Institute, a Spanish think tank for international and strategic studies, in a report.
And the Andean nation is now home to another phenomenon: criminal groups from different countries are using social networks in Bolivia to do business with drug producers, said Bolivia’s Vice Minister for Social Defense and Controlled Substances Jaime Zamora on September 20.
“Unfortunately, we are a country that fills orders,” Zamora told the Bolivian Information Agency. “Different organizations place their orders with narcotraffickers in the country, specifying quantity and quality, with the brand and seal they want,” he said.
Cocaine hydrochloride bricks are identified with symbols such as fish, letters, crowns, and animals, which correspond to each producer’s brand. This indication comes from operations to destroy cocaine manufacturing labs. So far in 2020, security forces have detected at least 38 seals, Zamora said.
The producers who take requests via social networks are not solely from Bolivia, since the operations identified warehouses with cocaine base paste coming from Peru. At the same time, the criminal groups making requests are usually from Brazil and Chile, as well as European countries, the vice minister said.
In response, the FELCN has stepped up the destruction of facilities used to produce the drug. So far this year, agents have dismantled 700 factories and 20 cocaine labs, the Bolivian newspaper Página Siete reported.
From September 1-3 alone, during Operation Impact II (Operación Impacto II), “the FELCN destroyed 54 mobile factories for cocaine production, one lab, two ether recyclers, and 195 kg of cocaine,” the institution said in a press release.
“The lab had a maximum [production] capacity of 50 kg per day,” said the FELCN, whose agents also confiscated a vehicle, four firearms, and ammunition of different calibers.