Chilean Police seize large quantity of liquid cocaine, arrest 11 suspects

Chilean Police seize large quantity of liquid cocaine, arrest 11 suspects

By Dialogo
March 11, 2014



Chilean authorities recently seized 500 liters of liquid cocaine in the Santiago metropolitan area. Such a large seizure could signal an expansion of Chile’s role as a processing center for South American drugs, authorities said.
Chilean security forces arrested 11 people on Feb. 22-23, 2014, in connection with the investigation. In the alleged scheme, drug traffickers smuggled the liquid cocaine into Chile from Bolivia, according to published reports. The organized crime operatives transported the liquid cocaine inside two trucks. The liquid cocaine was hidden inside containers that were labeled as cooking oil.
Agents with the Anti-Narcotics Brigade of the Chilean Investigations Police seized the liquid cocaine and captured the suspects following a two-month investigation.
The seizure of the liquid cocaine was one of the largest drug busts in Chile in the past ten years, authorities said. The drugs were destined for sophisticated drug labs in the capital city of Santiago, where the liquid cocaine could be converted into powder form and distributed locally, authorities believe.

Use of liquid cocaine on the rise

Because it is easier to transport and difficult to detect, liquified cocaine has become increasingly popular with drug smugglers throughout South America. Half a kilogram of powder cocaine can be fully dissolved in just one liter of water and then disguised as innocent products. Authorities in Chile and elsewhere have found liquid cocaine in Bolivian wine, in Johnny Walker whiskey, in lava lamps, infused into clothing, blankets and in heavy-duty paper bags containing charcoal, among other methods.
Human “mules” can carry up to a liter of liquid cocaine each when it is wrapped in latex and swallowed. Up to 90 percent of the cocaine content can be recovered and converted back into powder in drug labs after it reaches its destination.
For years, Chile has long been used as a transshipment point for South American drugs that are produced in Bolivia, Peru and elsewhere and then shipped to Europe and Australia. For example, on February 14, 2014, police in Le Havre, France seized 1.4 tons of cocaine that had been hidden in tires on a cargo ship that had arrived from Valparaiso. Because of its extensive petrochemical industries, Chile has also been known as a major source for precursor chemicals used in cocaine production in Bolivia and Peru, and as a source for ephedrine used to produce methamphetamines in Mexico.

A new phenomenon

Drug processing operations like the ones involved in the February arrests in Santiago are a new phenomenon in Chile, particularly in southern metropolitan areas, authorities said. Their presence could indicate both a rise in demand among Chile’s relatively affluent urban youth and a drive by criminal gangs to reduce costs and risks by processing drugs closer to the target market.
The seizure of such a large amount of liquid cocaine in Chile “is evidence that there are illegal drug labs in Chile which are used to process cocaine,” said Yadira Galvez, a security analyst at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).
For the most part, drug traffickers did not operate in Chile until the 1990s, Galvez said. Unlike other countries where organized crime groups transport or process drugs, Chile so far has not experienced high levels of violence linked to drug trafficking, the security analyst said.
Chile accounts for 10 percent of the cocaine consumption in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the 2011 United Nations World Drug Report.

A strong response

The Chilean government has reacted strongly to incursions into its territory by drug smugglers and criminal organizations. In 2011 the government announced the Northern Border Plan to increase anti-drug surveillance and interdiction along the 950-kilometer border with Peru and Bolivia.
In 2013 the government allocated about $1.1 billion Chilean pesos ($2.1 million USD) to the plan. The funds were used primarily to purchase equipment, such as unmanned aerial drones (UAVs) which are used to conduct surveillance. Authorities also increased anti-drug smuggling efforts by the Investigations Police and the Narcotics Division of the Carabineros national police force were also increased.
The security initiatives have achieved significant results.
For example, in 2013, the Chilean National Police seized a record 37 metric tons of drugs, including 3 metric tons of cocaine. The amount of drugs seized in 2013 was a 25 percent increase over the amount of drugs seized in 2012.
Chilean security forces dismantled 127 alleged drug trafficking groups in 2013, compared to 89 which were taken down in 2012. Of the drug trafficking groups dismantled in 2013, 57 were operating internationally, and 57 were engaged in domestic drug sales, authorities said.
Julieta Pelcastre contributed to this article.
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