Although more than 74,000 service members of the Chilean Armed Forces and the Carabineros (Chile’s national police) are deployed nationwide to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, said Chile’s Defense Minister Alberto Espina Otero at a mid-April press conference, security forces continue to fight transnational crime.
Since government measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus have taken effect, the Armed Forces have taken a more prominent role in controlling the borders shared with Argentina, Chile, and Peru, and have provided support to police forces in the fight against narcotrafficking.
“The Navy in coastal areas and the Army in land routes are protecting the more than 100 kilometers of land border separating Chile and Peru, with capabilities that the police did not have before,” Chilean Army Brigadier General Luis Cuellar Loyola, chief of Regional Defense for the Arica and Parinacota region, near the Peruvian border, told Diálogo.
Brig. Gen. Cuellar says that although his leadership’s main purpose is not to hunt down narcotraffickers, his troops have managed to disrupt related illegal activities. “This is a very porous area in the country due to its geography […]; we use specialized vehicles and advanced night vision equipment, which have helped us detect illegal immigrants and also narcotrafficking,” the officer said.
According to a study by Chile’s Investigations Police (PDI, in Spanish), shared with the Chilean newspaper La Tercera, the drug trade continues, and organized crime shows its resourcefulness. For example, the PDI’s National Counternarcotics and Organized Crime Command (JENANCO, in Spanish) told the newspaper that criminal gangs have approached truck drivers, who are part of the supply chain, to get them to bring and distribute drugs.
“Criminal gangs are using truck drivers […] to move drugs hidden in vehicles […] and they convince them that it’s safe, because they don’t have a criminal record. It’s a perverse incentive,” Guillermo Holzmann, a Chilean defense analyst and scholar at the University of Valparaíso’s School of Economics and Management, told Diálogo.
Among their successes, in mid-May security forces arrested four members of Los Cochelos, a narcotrafficking and money laundering ring that operated in San Joaquín municipality, in the Santiago Metropolitan Region. With these detainees, authorities have arrested a total of 22 people linked to the criminal ring, the PDI said on Twitter.
On April 21, PDI units seized more than 200 kilograms of cocaine base paste in the city of Concepción and arrested three criminal gang members who had crossed from Bolivia to Chile. A PDI agent told the BiobioChile news network that criminals had moved the drug by truck to the south-central part of the country to then get to Concepción.
On March 23, the Carabineros seized 2 tons of marijuana in the Santiago Metropolitan Region, a “historic” seizure, according to the security force. During the operation, authorities arrested four people: three Colombians and one Chilean national.
Since the state of emergency was declared, the investigations and operations have shown that drugs “continue to circulate and reach communities,” Álex Cortez, chief deputy prosecutor at the Specialized Anti-narcotics Prosecutor’s Office for the Southern Metropolitan Region, told La Tercera.