Pubdate: Fri, 27 Nov 2009
Source: Washington Times (DC)
Copyright: 2009 The Washington Times, LLC.
Author: Martin Arostegui
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia - Narco-trafficking cartels are migrating to the
Andes region in Bolivia, where a diminished U.S. presence has allowed
a boom in cocaine production and the opening of new drug routes,
regional anti-drug officials say.

Recent studies by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime show a steep rise
in cocaine production in Bolivia and a smaller increase in Peru. They
also show a drop in Colombian cocaine output, which is subject to
increased anti-drug efforts by the U.S. and Colombian

Potentially more significant is Bolivia's emergence as a major hub for
jungle laboratories that turn coca paste, which can be imported from
anywhere in the Andean region, into refined cocaine.

"Like never before we have discovered these types of factories around
the country," said Col. Oscar Nina, chief of Bolivia's police
anti-drug unit. He added that his unit has destroyed more than 20
cocaine laboratories so far this year.

In addition, he recently warned of the increasing presence of powerful
Mexican crime organizations that control drug movements.

Other law enforcement officials say Colombians connected with the
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a leftist guerrilla group
known by its Spanish acronym as FARC, are also shifting some
operations to Bolivia because of recent military pressures on
rebel-held areas.

"They come directly in small airplanes and install themselves
rapidly," said a district attorney in Santa Cruz, the main province of
eastern Bolivia, where much of the nation's new drug production is
thought to be concentrated.

The official, who asked not to be named because of the threat of
retaliation from drug traffickers, also said the Colombians are
introducing the latest technologies for refining cocaine into the
finished product.

Colombia is likely to remain the world's top cocaine producer for
years to come. Despite a 33 percent drop in Colombian cocaine
production since 2005, it still produces four times the 113,000
kilograms of Bolivia for 2008, according to the latest U.N. report.

Peruvian anti-drug officials say much of Peru's coca paste is now
going to Bolivia, because refining facilities there are more numerous
and secure and have easier access to chemicals needed to refine the
white powder.

"There exists a great refining capacity across the border in the
Bolivian jungle," said Gen. Miguel Hidalgo, the chief of Peru's
anti-drug agency.

He said his conclusions are based on interrogations of drug pilots
caught flying Peru's raw product to Bolivia for processing. From
there, officials say it is shipped to other nations, such as
Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay.

The U.N. report sites these and other nations of Latin America as the
world's fastest-growing market for cocaine as consumption levels off
or declines in North America and Europe.

Production in Bolivia is also said to benefit from last year's
expulsion of U.S. anti-drug agencies by leftist President Evo Morales.

Bolivia's deputy minister for social defense, Felix Caceres, called
reports of increased drug trafficking in his nation exaggerated. He
recently told reporters that Bolivia is strengthening its anti-drug
efforts through bilateral agreements with Brazil and Argentina.

Mr. Caceres has also said he is conducting "sensitive" negotiations
with the U.S. State Department to work out a "new strategic
approximation on anti-narcotics cooperation."

Mr. Morales has turned to Russia and China for anti-drug assistance.
Last month, Bolivia purchased six Chinese K-8 fighter jets to
intercept drug flights.

The Bolivian president was elected in late 2005 on pledges to legalize
farming of coca leaves - the main ingredient for cocaine and a
traditional cash crop for Indian peasants, who use the leaves as a
mild stimulant.

According to Brazilian intelligence reports quoted in the newspaper
Folha de Sao Paulo, drug trafficking has increased sharply since the
Drug Enforcement Administration left the country last year.

Brazil has recently deployed troops along its borders with Bolivia and
Peru in an operation dubbed "Padlock."

Brazilian authorities said high-powered weapons, including 30 mm
machine guns used by drug gangs against police helicopters, have been
smuggled from Bolivia.

Argentina has upgraded controls along its border, installing radars to
track drug flights, which have been making cocaine drops.

The newspaper La Nacion reported that Mexican drug bosses, operating
with Russian crime organizations, have established major new routes
from Argentina to Europe, Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

A British warship recently intercepted a drug cargo off Argentine
waters with an estimated street value of $500 million - one of the
largest seizures on record.

Chile's security services have reported a 183 percent rise in cocaine
smuggling from Bolivia, usually through human carriers known as "mules."

Bolivian opposition congressman Carlos Klinsky said most of the
cocaine goes to Venezuela, which has been singled out by the United
States as a "major drug-transit country." According to Mr. Klinsky,
bails of drugs are loaded onto hundreds of Venezuelan military flights
as they land at various points in Bolivia.

"There are no checks or controls on these flights" said Mr. Klinsky,
who also blames the increased drug flow for a skyrocketing crime wave
in Bolivian cities, where wars among competing drug gangs are becoming
increasingly common. 
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