Bolivia Releases Results of 10-Year Fight Against Narcotrafficking

Former Bolivian anti-drug czar Ernesto Justiniano said the information is alarming, as it reflects the growth of narcotrafficking in the country.
Erick Foronda / Diálogo | 17 July 2019

Transnational Threats

Members of the Special Counternarcotics Force incinerate cocaine in Oruro, Bolivia, in January 2015. The Bolivian government claims to have destroyed about 321 tons of cocaine in the last 10 years. (Jorge Bernal, AFP)

The Bolivian combined counternarcotics force destroyed a total of 35,878 cocaine labs and 321 tons of the drug in 116,440 operations carried out in the last 10 years, the Bolivian government reported. Bolivian Vice Minister of Social Defense and Controlled Substances, Felipe Cáceres, delivered the report on May 26, in which the government offensives are estimated to have dealt a blow to narcotrafficking worth about $176 million.

According to the report — the most thorough Bolivia has issued so far — the Bolivian Police’s Special Counternarcotics Force conducts daily operations with military units that provide logistics support, for example, in the handling of helicopters, small planes, boats, as well as in land transport. “This is a joint effort,” Cáceres said.

According to former anti-drug czar and subject matter expert Ernesto Justiniano, who was also vice minister of Social Defense between 2002 and 2003, narcotrafficking is growing exponentially in Bolivia, and the government “is hiding information.”

“I doubt any figure the government provides,” Justiniano told Diálogo. “I think they’re handling the situation from a political point of view, not a technical one, and there's no one who can confirm the data.”

According to an August 2018 report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), coca crops in Bolivia increased 6 percent between 2016 and 2017, from 23,100 to 24,500 hectares. In its 2019 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, the U.S. Department of State estimated the total coca cultivation to be 31,000 hectares.

Both figures exceed the legal limits established by the Bolivian government. In March, 2017, Morales signed a law increasing the legal surface area of coca crops from 12,000 to 22,000 hectares.

According to the UNODC report, up to 48 percent of the coca harvested in 2017 was used illegally. The Department of State report estimates that Bolivia produced about 249 tons of cocaine in 2017.

In September 2018, the U.S. government designated Bolivia and Venezuela as countries that failed demonstrably to meet their obligations under international counter-drug agreements in the last 12 months. Bolivia's designation was in part based on its lack of justification for the increase in coca production authorized under the new law.

The UNODC report also states that almost 91 percent of coca crops in Chapare, Cochabamba department, is sold illegally. Bolivian President Evo Morales has been leading coca production unions in Chapare, a region with 931 trade unions and about 50,000 affiliates, for more than 30 years.

“What happened is that they let the mice care for the cheese,” Justiniano said.

Cáceres introduced the report to the European Commission's Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development. All activities, he said, received support from the Regional Center of Counternarcotics Intelligence, based in Bolivia, with counts on the participation of neighboring countries, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Peru.

The minister added that the government assigns an annual average of $50 million to fight narcotrafficking, and assigned $430 million to this endeavor in the last decade. Bolivia expelled the Drug Enforcement Administration from the country in 2008, and rejected any counternarcotics help from the U.S. government.

“It may be difficult to have zero narcotrafficking, but we have zero tolerance for narcotrafficking. It's a mission,” Morales told the press in early June.

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