Units of the Chilean Army conduct surveillance and provide logistics support, technology, and transport in the fight against illegal activities such as narcotrafficking, human trafficking, smuggling money, and other related crimes.
“There was pressure from narcotrafficking recipient countries in Europe, the United States, and also the OAS [Organization of American States], which urged Chile to implement control measures, make them official, and present them,” Guillermo Holzmann, Chilean political and defense analyst and scholar at the University of Valparaíso’s School of Economic and Administrative Science, told Diálogo.
The North Joint Command, under the Chilean Joint Chiefs of Staff, leads the coordination with the Armed Forces’ different capabilities and police forces. Service members provide logistics and technological support to trace and identify criminals, while police elements are responsible for arresting them.
According to Holzmann, narcotraffickers use routes that national authorities don’t control. “They [the routes] are explored, defined, and secured by criminal groups based in Italy, Russia, countries of the former Soviet Union, and China, which control them and define their use, with weapons and without weapons,” said Holzmann.
“A large amount of the drug is loaded in small ports and then transported to much larger ships in open waters. That’s why fighting this requires a convergence of Navy, Air Force, and Army resources,” Holzmann said.
Chilean Army General René Bonhomme, commander of the 6th Division, told Diálogo that police forces, despite doing their job adequately, “don’t have the capability to protect a border of considerable length, especially Bolivia’s, whose geography makes it very complex to manage and control.”
According to the Chilean government, 64 percent of all drugs seized between 2010-2018 was concentrated in the north of the country bordering Bolivia and Peru, two countries considered to be among the largest cocaine producers. In 2019 alone, police forces disrupted 35 criminal gangs in the area and seized more than 1 ton of drugs.
Transborder narcotrafficking in Chile has increased in recent years, especially in these areas that extend some 530 miles, with rugged terrain and peaks that reach 16,500 feet above sea level.
“It’s a very complicated area weather-wise, with poor quality and badly configured roads and many gorges,” said Gen. Bonhomme. “Some groups move skillfully during the night, showing that they know and use the roads very well.”