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Bolivia's 2012 Cocaine Seizures Up

BOLIVIA / 20 NOV 2012 BY EDWARD FOX EN

Bolivia has seized 34 tons of cocaine so far this year, an increase on 2011, and indicative of Bolivia's increasing importance as a supplier of cocaine for regional and international organized crime.

President Evo Morales’ government announced on November 19 that during 2012 authorities have seized some 34 tons of cocaine, surpassing the 2011 total of 33 tons, according to EFE.

On the same day the figures were released, Bolivia’s anti-narcotics unit, the FELCN (Special Force for the Fight Against Drug Trafficking - Fuerza Especial de Lucha Contra el Narcotrafico), dismantled a laboratory used to process coca base into cocaine hydrochloride (HCl) in the eastern department of Santa Cruz, reported Prensa Latina.

The government added that so far in 2012, 10,000 hectares of coca – the raw material for cocaine – have been destroyed and that anti-narcotics police have detained 3,794 people. Of these, 308 were foreigners from Colombia, Brazil, Peru and Argentina, among other countries.

InSight Crime Analysis

According to the latest United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report on Bolivia’s coca production, coca cultivation and cocaine seizures are on divergent paths - cultivation dropped 13 percent between 2010 and 2011 to 27,200 hectares while seizures rose 16 percent in the same period. The seizures comprised both coca base and HCl, with the latter making up over 16 percent of the total. The Bolivian government did not give details on how much HCl was in the 34 tons seized this year.

The discovery of the HCl lab in Santa Cruz represents one factor which may explain the contrasting trends. Employment of the so-called “Colombian method" of processing cocaine, which involves a more sophisticated extraction technique of the cocaine alkaloid, ensuring greater yields, is often cited as the reason for Bolivia’s apparently increasing capacity to produce cocaine.

In addition, Santa Cruz is becoming an a favored drug trafficking and production hub for criminals in the region. Though the government has frequently denied that foreign cartels have a permanent presence in the department, there is evidence of Brazilian and Colombian gangs running networks here. Compounding this problem are the levels of corruption, something which prompted the government to open investigations into corrupt officials in August.

According to an El Universal report from earlier this year, the rise in cocaine production in Bolivia means that the country could now be the second largest supplier of cocaine to Mexican cartels, after Colombia, based on information obtained from the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

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