Officials from Bolivia and Colombia have signed a bilateral anti-drug coordination agreement, taking a step towards closing a narcotics-trafficking information gap that emerged after the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) withdrew from Bolivia in 2009.
The agreement, signed on July 15, reportedly calls for the two countries to better coordinate information sharing and intelligence gathering. The Bolivian Viceminister of Social Defense, Felipe Caceres, spoke of the “shared responsibility” the two countries have in doing more to fight drug trafficking and emphasized the “real time” coordination capabilities the agreement will create.
Specifically, the bilateral pact will prioritize the exchange of anti-drug officials and the opening of new lines of intelligence communication. The agreement was billed as a move towards identifying “white spots” and “big fish” in the transnational drug networks that operate in both countries.
After the DEA’s withdrawal from Bolivia in 2009 and the subsequent expulsion of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) in 2013, the European Union (EU) stepped up to partially fill the anti-drug funding void. However, the US also played a critical information sharing and strategic intelligence role in Bolivia, which the EU has not been able to fill completely. Intelligence sharing, particularly with Colombia, is still a weak link in Bolivia’s ongoing fight against transnational organized crime.
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While the accord represents a step in the right direction, it is long overdue. Dating back to the original cocaine boom, Colombia and Bolivia have a long history of close drug trafficking ties which are still very relevant. In a return to operating dynamics like those seen in the days of Pablo Escobar, Colombian trafficking networks are moving cocaine produced in Bolivia.
Bolivia’s emergence as the new drug hub of South America makes this new agreement all the more important. Bolivia is an attractive site for Colombian syndicate operations not only because it is a major producer of relatively cheap coca, but also because it sits alongside the second largest consumer drug market in the world, Brazil. Bolivia’s shared borders with Argentina and Brazil, which are important transshipment countries for the lucrative European and Asian drug markets, make the Andean country an even more valuable link in the South American drug production and distribution chain.
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