Pubdate: Thu, 03 Mar 2011
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Copyright: 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Author: Martin Arostegui


SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia-A top Bolivian security official pled not guilty
in a Miami federal court Wednesday on charges of conspiring to smuggle
cocaine into the U.S., in a scandal that has rocked the government of
Evo Morales and provoked a wide-ranging police crackdown.

The scandal broke Friday when U.S. agents and Panamanian police
arrested retired-general Rene Sanabria, the former head of Bolivia's
main anti-narcotics unit for smuggling up to 315 pounds (144
kilograms) of cocaine to the U.S., Bolivian officials said. Mr.
Sanabria, who was serving as a top intelligence adviser to the
country's Interior Minister Sacha Llorenti at the time of his arrest,
was deported to Miami.

Mr. Sanabria's state-appointed lawyer, Christy O'Connor of the Miami
public defender's office, told reporters Tuesday that Mr. Sanabria
could face a life sentence if found guilty.

Felipe Caceres, Bolivia's top antidrug official said Tuesday Mr.
Sanabria's security unit "was riddled" with corruption. Mr. Caceres
said that 15 other police officials were in the process of being
detained for complicity in the drug-smuggling operation. Bolivian
police have been rounding up Mr. Sanabria's subordinates in the
Interior Ministry's counter-intelligence section as well as
ex-district police chiefs for the capital of La Paz, and the city of
Santa Cruz, the country's largest city, both of whom are alleged to be
part of Mr. Sanabria's smuggling network.

Mr. Caceres said Bolivia was cooperating fully in the probe. But he
complained the government was never informed about the international
arrest warrant issued against Mr. Sanabria.

"We had no information from the State Department or the DEA," said Mr.
Caceres at a news conferenceTuesday where he requested Mr. Sanabria be
repatriated to face charges in Bolivia.Mr. Sanabria's arrest was the
result of a two-year investigation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement
Administration, which detected that Bolivian police officials had been
shipping drugs to Miami from ports in neighboring Chile since 2009,
said Sacha Llorenti, Bolivia's Interior Minister. Opposition critics
have jumped on the scandal to criticize the government for alleged
permissive policies on drug trafficking. Mr. Morales expelled the U.S.
Drug Enforcement Administration from Bolivia in 2008, saying its
agents were conspiring against his government during a bloody regional
rebellion in eastern Bolivia.

"This is a serious stain on the government," said opposition Senator
Marcelo Antezana, a former army chief of staff, who demanded Mr.
Llorenti's resignation.

Other opposition leaders said the scandal was the fault of Mr.
Morales's expulsion of the DEA three years ago.

"Controls on the police which were exercised by the DEA have
disappeared," said Rene Justiniano, a former antidrug czar turned
opposition leader. "Police have lost their fear of getting caught."

Police internal-affairs units set up under U.S. tutelage were
dismantled following Mr. Sanabria's appointment to head the antidrug
police in 2007, a Bolivian law enforcement officer said.

Government officials say Mr. Sanabria's arrest is U.S. retribution for
Mr. Morales's kicking out the DEA. The U.S. "took Sanabria to the U.S.
because the DEA is hurt that we had the sufficient capacity and
political will to expel them," Mr. Caceres told a rally of coca
growers Monday. Mr. Llorenti, the interior minister, has denied that
Mr. Sanabria exercised major intelligence responsibilities in the
government, saying his intelligence unit was just one of several
Bolivian government security agencies.

Mr. Morales, the leader of Bolivia's main union of coca leaf farmers,
was elected president in 2005 on a pledge to revoke an agreement with
the U.S. putting a ceiling on coca cultivation. The agreement
permitted Bolivian farmers to grow up to 10,000 hectares of coca for
the country's domestic market, where the leaf has traditionally been
chewed as a mild stimulant or brewed in tea.

But following the expansion of coca cultivation during the past five
years, Bolivia's cocaine production has also surged-jumping 50%,
according to a 2009 United Nations report. Today, Bolivia is the
world's third-largest cocaine producer following Colombia and Peru.

Mr. Morales claims that his government has conducted a record number
of drug interdictions, intercepting drug shipments into neighboring
countries and dismantling cocaine processing labs in Bolivia's eastern
jungles. Mr. Morales has defended coca as a medicinal and nutritional
plant, sacred to many of Bolivia's indigenous people while insisting
that his objective remains "zero cocaine." 
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