Liquid Cocaine: A New Challenge for Latin American Authorities

By Dialogo
May 13, 2011

BOGOTÁ, Colombia – In their constant efforts to deceive
counter-narcotics agents, drug traffickers have found another way to camouflage
cocaine: diluting it.
The method recently was exposed in Bolivia, where agents from the Special
Force in the Fight Against Drug Trafficking (FELCN) confiscated 13 kilograms (28
pounds) of liquid cocaine in the city of Abapó in the department of Santa Cruz on
April 28. Authorities also seized 500 kilograms (1,102 pounds) of sodium hydroxide
in 20 bags before arresting the driver of the truck transporting the narcotics.
“Drug traffickers will always try to use unconventional methods, because
their goal is to deceive police controls so the substance can pass unnoticed,” Lt.
Col. Fernando Amurrio, head of the FELCN in Santa Cruz, said during a media
It’s easy to transform cocaine into liquid because the narcotic is highly
soluble. Half a kilogram (1.1 pounds) of the drug can be diluted in a liter (0.26
gallons) of water. It’s also easy for liquid cocaine to be returned to its original
state, as 90% can be decanted and filtered, according to FELCN.
A kilogram (2.2 pounds) of cocaine costs about US$1,300 in Bolivia, but it’s
worth more in Argentina (US$5,000), Spain (US$60,000) and New Zealand (US$100,000),
according to the Bolivian daily El Día.
Roberto Carlos Achá Arandia, a counter-narcotics prosecutor in Bolivia, said
the trafficking of narcotics in their liquid forms is becoming more common
throughout South America.
“The mules [people who swallow the drug to transport the merchandise] now
carry it in capsules made out of condoms [to protect the drug and the carrier’s
digestive system],” said Achá, according to El Día.
This type of smuggling makes the drug much harder to detect through the use
of X-ray or ultrasound scanners, Arandia said.

One of the largest seizures of liquid cocaine was on board the “Guasare II”
vessel, sailing under a Venezuelan flag, in international waters. During the
operation, carried out in April 2008, the U.S. Coast Guard confiscated a shipment of
2,000 liters (528 gallons) of liquid cocaine, according to Mexican daily El
“Trafficking methods are like fads: What is hot today is cocaine in a
solution, particularly in fuels,” said Hernán Bernal, coordinator of the Studies and
International Relations Group of Colombia’s National Directorate on Narcotics,
according to El Universal.

In March, Colombian National Police reported the seizure 276 kilograms (608
pounds) of liquid cocaine during an operation in the city of San Félix in the
department of Antioquia.
“It is not usual to find [liquid cocaine], much less the level of purity
found [by the police],” said Gen. Yesid Vásquez, commander of the Medellín
Metropolitan Police, according to the website El
Vásquez said narco-traffickers are smuggling liquid drugs to the United
States and Europe more frequently because they are easier to get through airport
security checkpoints without detection.
On April 18, in the city of Barranquilla in the department of Atlántico, a
drug-sniffing dog from the North Region Counter-Narcotics Company of Colombia’s
National Police detected a 1,400-kilogram (3,086-pound) shipment of cocaine stored
in seven motor oil containers on the ‘Seven Seas’ ship, sailing under a Honduran
Meantime, on April 25 in Argentina, authorities stopped a Bolivian woman
carrying five kilograms (11 pounds) of liquid cocaine in her luggage on a bus
departing from the province of Salta, on the Bolivian border.
Police agencies worldwide are on alert.
Barcelona National Police arrested a Spanish man and Brazilian woman at El
Prat Airport on May 2 after finding eight kilograms (17 pounds) of liquid cocaine
had been injected into clothing and two insect repellent cans allegedly in the
couple’s possession.