Bolivian authorities stepped up operations to counter the advances of international drug trafficking. On July 6, Vice Minister of Social Defense and Controlled Substances Jaime Mamani told Bolivian newspaper Opinión that authorities have carried out more than 25,000 anti-drug operations in the last two and a half years, seizing more than 500,000 tons of substances, including cocaine base paste, cocaine hydrochloride, and marijuana.
During this period, Bolivian authorities destroyed 148 cocaine laboratories, “which allowed the refining of cocaine base paste, not only the one produced in our country, but also the one that was brought into Bolivia from Peru,” Mamani added.
“Unlike in recent years, when Bolivia was mainly considered a cocaine transit country, now the trend is changing and Bolivia is once again becoming a cocaine-producing territory,” criminologist Gabriela Reyes Rodas, former director of the Bolivian Observatory for Citizen Security and the Fight Against Drugs, told Diálogo on July 10. “Although Bolivia is the third largest producer of coca internationally and an important producer of cocaine, according to data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime [UNODC], it represents only 15 percent of the total number of hectares of coca among the three main producing countries, along with Colombia and Peru.”
One of the main anti-drug trafficking actions took place in May, when Bolivian authorities destroyed seven laboratories, affecting narcotrafficking organizations that operate in the country.
Government Minister Eduardo Del Castillo Del Carpio said via Twitter that the intervention of anti-narcotics forces destroyed laboratories capable of producing between 80 to 100 kilograms of cocaine hydrochloride per day. These drug production centers were located in the Cochabamba department, in the district of Villa Tunari, an area that the Special Force for the Fight Against Drug Trafficking was able to reach after a 14-hour walk through the jungle.
According to the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia are, in that order, the main producers of cocaine worldwide, producing an estimated 2,074 tons of the drug in 2021, reported German news agency Deutsche Welle (DW) on June 23.
In a March report the UNODC indicated that global cocaine production soared by 35 percent from 2020 to 2021, due to both the expansion of coca cultivation and improvements in the process of transforming coca into cocaine hydrochloride. The same report notes that cocaine from Bolivia and Peru is increasingly being transported via the Southern Cone route through Paraguay and the Paraná-Paraguay waterway.
Reyes Rodas emphasized that in recent years Bolivia has changed its vision in relation to anti-narcotics policy, from concentrating solely on seizures and factories/laboratories, to the dismantling of criminal organizations, the arrest of “big fish” and the economic and financial impact, activating the CERIAN Regional Anti-Narcotics Intelligence Center, which shares information in real time with neighboring countries. Authorities have also implemented different control initiatives, such as the UNODC AIRCOP airport communication program, which strengthens the capabilities of international airports to detect and intercept drugs, as well as the Container Control Programme, among others.
“Our country is a transit country due to its geographical location. They have to pass through our country. The cocaine route starts in Peru, crosses our country, and reaches Uruguay and Paraguay. In the case of marijuana, the route starts in Colombia and Paraguay to reach markets in Chile,” Mamani said.
“In Bolivia, mainly family clans operate, and we also know more and more criminals with important positions are settling in this country, mainly from the First Capital Command and the Red Command, the two largest Brazilian criminal groups,” Reyes Rodas added. “There is a structuring of drug trafficking with these organizations in the distribution of tasks within the narcotrafficking chain, from production to shipments.”
Ana Soliz, a professor and researcher at the University of the Federal Armed Forces in Hamburg, Germany, told Colombian news channel NTN24 in June that in addition to Brazilian organizations, Colombian and Mexican groups are also found in Bolivia. “The destination of Bolivian drug production is mainly Brazil, Paraguay, and Europe,” Soliz said.
Reyes Rodas added that since Bolivia has wide borders, the main exit points for drugs are Paraguay and Brazil, where their main market is Europe, either directly or with transit in Africa. “Other destinations are Argentina and last but not least Chile and Uruguay more scarcely. It is also known that Brazil is the main consumer of cocaine in Latin America, so it is estimated that Bolivian cocaine could also be going to local consumption in that country,” he added.
“It is unofficially known that there is a relationship with human trafficking, mainly for the movement of money linked to narcotrafficking, in addition to the use of people to transport drugs in small quantities, called ‘swallowers,’” Reyes Rodas concluded.