HomeNewsAnalysisFormer Bolivian Drug Czar Arrested in Panama
ANALYSIS

Former Bolivian Drug Czar Arrested in Panama

BOLIVIA / 28 FEB 2011 BY ELYSSA PACHICO EN

After the arrest of Bolivia's former top narcotics czar Thursday in Panama, accused of running a drug-trafficking ring, attention is again focused on how deep is police and military involvement in the drug trade.

Retired police general Rene Sanabria was arrested Thursday in Panama and has since been deported to the U.S., reports La Razon. Sanabria was currently serving as an intelligence advisor to the government's interior ministry. He is among the highest ranking security officials yet arrested on drug trafficking charges in Bolivia.

At least three other mid-ranking police officials – including a major and a captain, both part of the same intelligence apparatus where Sanabria worked, known by its Spanish acronym CIGEIN, and a colonel, the former head of anti-narcotics in Cochabamba – were also arrested Sunday for alleged involvement in Sanabria's ring.

The group is accused of facilitating drug shipments from the Arica highlands near the Chilean border to Panama, then onto the U.S., according to La Razon. Sanabria arrived at Panama's Tocumen International Airport on Thursday in order to coordinate his third shipment to the U.S., the newspaper says.

High-level official involvement in the drug trade is nothing new in Bolivia. Under the dictatorships of Hugh Banzer (1971-1978) and Luis Garcia Meza (1980-1981), security officials were widely understood to be in bed with drug trafficking organizations (DTOs). Garcia Meza, who came to power in what was later known as a "cocaine coup," did much to institutionalize the drug trade among sectors of the military.

This history of military involvement in the drug trade means that the police, and not the army, is deployed to do anti-narcotics work in Bolivia. But as Sanabria's arrest demonstrates, the police is not immune from collaboration in the drug trade, and in some ways have helped make Bolivia's anti-drug strategy deeply unpopular. The principle arm of Bolivia's anti-narcotics force, known by its Spanish acronym UMOPAR, has been frequently accused of human rights violations while conducting operations, including torture and illegal detentions.

In the most recent high-profile case involving a police official accused of criminal ties, former police captain Orlando Araujo was detained in May 2010, allegedly responsible for masterminding the kidnapping of Paraguayan trafficker William Rosales. In a jolt of violence that startled Bolivia last year, Rosales and his Serbian bodyguards were ambushed in a rural area, leaving six guards dead and Rosales still missing, presumably kidnapped by Araujo at the behest of Colombians who had a $1 million bounty on Rosales' head.

President Evo Morales has acknowledged that there are drug cartels operating in Bolivia, and has even said they are "better equipped" than the national security forces. Brazilian drug trafficking organizations Red Command (Comando Vermelho) and the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital - PCC) also are believed to be present in the country. But despite the history of drug-related corruption in the police and army, the Bolivian state is not as seriously threatened by powerful drug cartels as is the case for Mexico and Colombia.

While there may be remnants of international cartels like Colombia's Norte del Valle Cartel making their presence felt in Bolivia, most of the business, including transhipment into neighbouring countries like Brazil and the processing coca into cocaine, is believed to be handled by local "family clans." The international buyers, who maintain contact with organizations like the PCC, keep a low profile. Notably, drug-related violence, or the co-opting of government officials by DTOs, is much more rare in Bolivia than it is in other source countries like Colombia, indicating that the local DTOs do not yet feel the need to compete violently for territory.

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.

Tags

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

BOLIVIA / 23 MAY 2012

Bolivia's police chief has been replaced amid corruption allegations, in a sign of the obstacles facing reform to the country's…

BOLIVIA / 13 AUG 2019

Violent tensions are flaring in Bolivia's capital between hostile factions of one of the country's coca growers’ unions, escalating a…

BOLIVIA / 17 JAN 2012

According to Bolivia's top drug official, there are no drug cartels inside the Andean nation but there are representatives from…

About InSight Crime

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…

THE ORGANIZATION

Coverage of Fallen Paraguay Prosecutor Makes Headlines

20 MAY 2022

The murder of leading anti-crime prosecutor, Marcelo Pecci, while on honeymoon in Colombia, has drawn attention to the evolution of organized crime in Paraguay. While 17 people have been arrested…