Chilean Authorities Step Up Efforts to Interdict Maritime Drug Trafficking

By Dialogo
August 13, 2012

SANTIAGO — On the night of July 25, the Chilean Navy undertook a pursuit which ended in the seizure of a Peruvian-registered vessel, after its occupants tried to unload 38 kilograms of compressed marijuana in the Vitor inlet near Arica, in northern Chile.
According to the official account, the vessel’s occupants ignored a warning flare. Naval authorities then shot at the boat’s motor, sinking the craft. Back on land, four subjects including at least one Chilean were waiting to unload the drugs.
“There was an exchange of fire and the drug traffickers fled in a 4x4 van. The vehicle broke down and the traffickers escaped on foot. Packages of drugs turned up during the search,” said Arica’s maritime governor, Juan Carlos Pons.
The two Peruvians were identified as Jorge Anahua Mamani and Juan Malache Rugel. One of the men was listed in critical condition at the Iquique Hospital; the other was arrested.
Since April 2011, judicial authorities have empowered the Chilean Navy to investigate drug trafficking via maritime routes. Officials in Iquique began a joint investigation with the Navy into the possible smuggling by sea of large quantities of drugs into Chile.
“We had clues, but this is the first drug trafficking arrest of a boat by the navy,” Pons said.
Guerra, the Tarapaca regional prosecutor, has 90 days to finish the case investigation while attempting to locate the three individuals who dumped the drug shipment before fleeing.
Defense Minister Andres Allamand recently explained how smugglers were infiltrating the Pacific coast of northern Chile, and how 150 officers are being used to fight these so-called “aqua-narcos” — traffickers who bring in drugs from various countries through maritime routes.
“The naval police are authentic sea commandos. They are personnel who have undergone demanding training,” Allamand told reporters in Santiago. He explained that the incident in question “revealed a way of operating that happens in other countries where vessels are very difficult to detect, and which have high-speed capacity to penetrate Chilean territorial waters.”
Vitor seizure was by no means the only incident of its type that week. On July 28, the Anti-narcotics Brigade of the port of San Antonio dismantled an international drug trafficking network run by Colombian citizens. It was determined that the compressed marijuana they were smuggling in suitcases on interurban buses — to avoid suspicions about their contents —was presumably being transferred from Bolivia to Calama, in northern Chile.
On July 31, during a routine highway check, uniformed police from Chile’s Lampa district broke up an international drug trafficking gang, and arrested three Bolivians. They found 21 kilos of cocaine base — in solid, rock-like form — in the car heading to Santiago.
Allamand called the Vitor confiscation an isolated occurrence, yet the problem persists and is increasingly worrying to Chilean authorities. This is evident by the reinforcements being sent to coastal areas to detect drug trafficking quickly.
May 2011, President Sebastián Piñera launched Chile’s National Drugs and Alcohol Strategy 2011-14. That program seeks to reduce the level of drug consumption and alcohol abuse, along with the associated social and health consequences.
“We have a fixed goal of reducing marijuana use among schoolchildren by 15 percent,” Interior Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter recently told reporters, adding that marijuana consumption has been increasing in schools. In fact, Chile holds first place among Latin American nations in marijuana and opiate consumption, second place in cocaine consumption and third place in the consumption of amphetamines and their derivatives.
However, according to the U.S. report “Strategies for the International Control of Narcotics,” Chile is “not a very important producer of organic or synthetic drugs” — with the exception of marijuana harvested for local use.