HomeNewsAnalysisTensions Rise in Bolivia's Chapare as Government Escalates Anti-Drug Operations
ANALYSIS

Tensions Rise in Bolivia's Chapare as Government Escalates Anti-Drug Operations

BOLIVIA / 8 MAY 2020 BY MAX RADWIN EN

Officials from Bolivia's interim government have stepped up drug trafficking operations over the last six months, but a focus on coca-producing communities in Cochabamba is creating tension with law enforcement that threatens to intensify.

On April 23, thirteen members of a drug trafficking ring in the city of Entre Ríos, Cochabamba, were arrested after they ambushed officers with the Mobile Police Unit for Rural Areas (Unidad Móvil Policial para Áreas Rurales —UMOPAR), Interior Minister Arturo Murillo told a press conference.

The drug traffickers were reportedly attempting to protect their drug laboratory, where 37 kilograms of cocaine were later found. Residents in the nearby towns of Shinahota, Chimoré and Villa Tunari broke quarantine rules to seek out police officers and remove them from the area. Residents said police presence wasn't necessary, as the military was also in the area carrying out similar patrols.

This was but the latest clash between authorities and drug gangs in Chapare in 2020.

SEE ALSO: Bolivia Coca Growers Fight for Control of Legal Production

In January, Bolivia’s Special Fighting Force Against Drug Trafficking (Fuerza Especial de Lucha Contra el Narcotráfico – FELCN) managed to destroy 15 drug labs in the Chapare province inside Cochabamba, allegedly in less than seven hours. In February, it dismantled 20 drug labs, intercepting drugs reportedly worth more than $300,000. And in March, it destroyed at least seven drug labs.

Reports of laboratory raids and cocaine seizures suggest that the interim government is taking a markedly different approach from that of former president Evo Morales, who began his career as a coca activist in Chapare.

The interim government has replaced several mid- and high-ranking officers of the FELCN and other law enforcement bodies responsible for carrying out anti-drug operations, several security experts on the ground told InSight Crime. Drug trafficking relies on corrupt officials overseeing eradication efforts, coca transportation checkpoints and the destruction of chemical laboratories, the experts said.

"Our country was becoming a paradise for drug traffickers," Murillo said in February. "Today, they are scared and trying to hide."

InSight Crime Analysis

Prolific coca production in Cochabamba, and especially Chapare, has long made it a hub for drug trafficking activity. And while the Morales government did allow some legal coca activity there, critics argue this was poorly enforced.

A 2019 US State Department report quoting UN figures said that "90 percent of the Chapare region's coca cultivation is destined for illicit coca production and not traditional consumption." Even much of the coca intended for legal consumption is reportedly "diverted" from land transportation checkpoints, where corrupt law enforcement turns a blind eye or accepts bribes.

Some of that coca arrives to drug labs before being sent through Paraguay and Brazil, and then onto Europe, Africa and other parts of the world, according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.

But despite the bold claims made by Murillo, the levels of coca eradication in Cochabamba under the interim government are similar to those seen under Morales.

SEE ALSO: Bolivia Investigations Target Members of Evo Morales’ MAS Party

More recently, eradication has stopped altogether, security experts told InSight Crime.

While the coronavirus pandemic has contributed to this halt, the decision is likely also political. Coca grower unions in Cochabamba are well organized and often close to Morales and his political party, the Movement to Socialism (Movemiento al Socialismo – MAS). Morales was "president in perpetuity" of the coca growers' federation in Chapare, according to the US State Department.

Sending armed officials into rural areas to destroy the crops of farmers poses political risks ahead of an election that MAS is still favored to win.

The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and other anti-drug agencies have been tied to instances of violence, arbitrary arrest and torture in Chapare — all in the name of coca eradication.

"We are not drug traffickers," Leonardo Loza, Executive of the Six Federations of the Tropics of Cochabamba, told local media. "We are not terrorists. We are not seditious. We are humble people."

Morales and many other MAS members began as coca farmers in Cochabamba before rising through the ranks of local and regional government, creating deep bonds of trust. The interim government has not fostered these same relationships and has faced protests in Chapare since 2019.

A focus on destroying drug labs and replacing corrupt law enforcement officials may seem to make sense ahead of the election. But the expulsion of police by residents of Chapare suggests tensions are threatening to boil over.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

CARIBBEAN / 18 APR 2022

Haitian authorities arrested Jean Eliobert Jasme in late march after he was indicated on charges of international drug trafficking in…

BOLIVIA / 26 SEP 2017

The arrest in Brazil of a wanted drug trafficker from Peru who was on the run for more than a…

COCA / 6 JAN 2014

The Peruvian government has set a target of 30,000 hectares of coca crops to be eradicated in 2014, a…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Who Are Memo Fantasma and Sergio Roberto de Carvalho?

24 JUN 2022

Inside the criminal career of Memo Fantasma  In March 2020, InSight Crime revealed the identity and whereabouts of Memo Fantasma, a paramilitary commander and drug trafficker living in…

THE ORGANIZATION

Environmental and Academic Praise

17 JUN 2022

InSight Crime’s six-part series on the plunder of the Peruvian Amazon continues to inform the debate on environmental security in the region. Our Environmental Crimes Project Manager, María Fernanda Ramírez,…

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Series on Plunder of Peru’s Amazon Makes Headlines

10 JUN 2022

Since launching on June 2, InSight Crime’s six-part series on environmental crime in Peru’s Amazon has been well-received. Detailing the shocking impunity enjoyed by those plundering the rainforest, the investigation…

THE ORGANIZATION

Duarte’s Death Makes Waves

3 JUN 2022

The announcement of the death of Gentil Duarte, one of the top dissident commanders of the defunct Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), continues to reverberate in Venezuela and Colombia.

THE ORGANIZATION

Cattle Trafficking Acclaim, Investigation into Peru’s Amazon 

27 MAY 2022

On May 18, InSight Crime launched its most recent investigation into cattle trafficking between Central America and Mexico. It showed precisely how beef, illicitly produced in Honduras, Guatemala…