The Chilean police is fighting synthetic drug trafficking in its country. According to the Narcotrafficking Observatory of Chile 2020 Report, issued by the Chilean Office of the Attorney General, the civil police seized 2,304 doses of synthetic drugs in 2010, while more than 1.6 million doses were seized in 2019.
“These drugs are more dangerous, because many are homemade, and a person can easily get intoxicated, as the dosage is not perfect,” Prefect Inspector Leonardo Torres, chief of Chile’s National Counternarcotics and Organized Crime Command, told the Chilean digital newspaper La Tercera.
During 2020, the blows against structures that move this kind of illicit substances have also been constant.
In March, the Valparaíso Counternarcotics and Organized Crime Brigade said it dismantled a narcotrafficking organization that used a lab to manufacture synthetic drugs. They arrested eight people and seized a pressing machine that produced 30 to 40 ecstasy pills per minute. Authorities also seized doses of ketamine, a hallucinogenic drug.
“The fact that it can be produced in very small quantities means that risks are lower not only for the production process, but also for transport, which yields very high returns for them [narcotraffickers],” Tania Molina, a criminologist, security specialist, and graduate of the William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies, told Diálogo.
Molina also believes that in the future, the context of the COVID-19 pandemic will be another factor that might favor trafficking of this kind of drugs in the region. “One thing is narcotrafficking before March; another thing is narcotrafficking during the pandemic and what will happen after we leave confinement,” Molina said. “Traffickers will opt for drugs of this nature more often due to their price, the logistics, and because they are easier to move.”
Eduardo Vergara, a Chilean consultant on narcotrafficking and executive director of Fundación Chile 21, a nongovernmental organization that promotes freedom and social justice, explains that although the trafficking of synthetic drugs is not new, the presence and seizures of this type of narcotics are increasing.
“Chile is a coveted market for two reasons: First, drug use has to do with the fact that some countries that used to be transit countries, or that played a role in drug movement, have now become important countries that generate demand. This has moved routes and incentives not only toward producing, but also [consuming] different drugs,” Vergara said. “On the other hand, the Chilean market in particular is characterized by a high buying power and a demand that is able to pay; and it is also associated with a youth market.”
According to statistics from the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, Chile ended 2019 as the Latin American country with the highest gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, $15,091; the 2019 GDP per capita in the region was $8,957.
Another important factor to understand the synthetic drugs phenomenon in Chile, according to Vergara, is that narcotrafficking structures have changed drastically.
“The conventional way to analyze narcotrafficking structures in Latin America has changed. We used to think of the big drug cartels, based mainly in Colombia and Mexico, and even in Central American countries,” Vergara said. “Now there are new rings, but they are more dispersed; they do not depend on hierarchical structures, and they do not even depend on structures that are linked to large scale criminals. This helps prevent drug production and drug movement from being detected by conventional methods,” he concluded.