NGOs Warn Narcotrafficking Threatens the Bolivian Amazon
By Eduardo Szklarz/Diálogo August 20, 2020
Bolivian civil organizations have united to warn that the Bolivian Amazon is under threat from narcotrafficking.
“In addition to the devastation of natural resources […], we now face the criminal activities of narcotrafficking, which seek to subject populations, especially youth, to the vicious circle of violence and ambition,” says the joint statement, released on June 26. Seventeen organizations signed the statement, including the Center for Legal Studies and Social Research, the Bolivian Center for Documentation and Information, the Agrecol Andes Foundation, Colectivo Casa, and Caritas Social Pastoral.
The nongovernmental organizations expressed their support for the Bella Vista community in the Magdalena municipality, whose neighbors stood up against narcotrafficking. On June 12, they retained a light aircraft that criminals used and put it on display in the central square. The residents also destroyed part of a clandestine airstrip and closed a hangar that a human trafficking network allegedly used for sexual exploitation.
On June 19, agents of the Special Force Against Drug Trafficking (FELCN, in Spanish) seized the light aircraft, along with four vehicles and one tractor. They also closed down the hangar.
Juan Frías, FELCN director, said that narcotraffickers continue to operate in the region despite the quarantine. “There’s not a single day without a positive result in antinarcotics operations,” Frías said at a press conference on June 22.
Narcotrafficking is gaining ground especially in the Norte de La Paz region, which is part of the Amazon River’s ecosystem. In that area, coca crops increased from 220 hectares in 2017 to 346 hectares in 2018 (the latest year with available data), a 57 percent increase, according to the Coca Cultivation Survey that the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime published in 2019.
The region contrasts with the rest of the country, where satellite images show a 6 percent reduction in the area used for coca crops, totaling 23,100 hectares.
In recent years, at least four family clans based in the Bolivian Amazon, which operate with foreign organizations, have been reported on by the press and by authorities. “There have been reports of citizens from Brazil, Peru, Colombia, and Paraguay, among other countries, who take part in drug transport operations,” the newspaper Los Tiempos reported.