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BRIEF

Bolivia Govt Admits Major Cocaine Transit

BOLIVIA / 26 NOV 2013 BY MARGUERITE CAWLEY EN

Bolivia’s interior minister has admitted the country has “technological weaknesses” that make it difficult to properly track incoming drug flights, but failed to acknowledge the country’s more direct role in the drug trade, as a cocaine producer.

“Bolivia’s principal problem is its status as a transit country and its vulnerability,” Interior Minister Carlos Romero told La Razon. He said a lack of radar and tracking equipment had limited the government’s capacity to identify illegal flights and clandestine landing strips in Bolivia, but that officials were constantly working to destroy the illegal air strips they found.

Romero said the government had identified the tri-border region between Peru, Bolivia and Brazil as a key point of entry for drug flights, and that Bolivia was working with Peru to exchange information and engage in joint anti-drug actions.

A day earlier, Peruvian authorities reported killing a Bolivian pilot as he attempted to take 270 kilos of cocaine out of the country using a clandestine air strip in the central Pasco province, reported El Comercio.

InSight Crime Analysis

Peru has become both the world’s top coca grower and primary cocaine producer, and according to a recent report, three or four Bolivian drug planes now enter Peru each day to bring an average of 300 kilos of cocaine each flight into Bolivia. This cocaine is often sold on to domestic markets in Brazil and Argentina or exported to Europe. The tri-border region between Peru, Brazil and Bolivia has become a particular drug trafficking haven.

In this context, Bolivia’s technological limitations are a serious problem. The country’s importance as a transit nation for Brazilian-bound cocaine has already helped convert the eastern Santa Cruz province into an operational hub for transnational criminal groups and raised fears of increasing drug-related violence. Its inability to combat drug flights, coupled with Peru’s own limited radar technology, is likely to see trafficking through the country continue to grow.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Bolivia

What Romero failed to mention is Bolivia’s more direct role in the drug trade, as a cocaine producer. Bolivia produces far more coca than can be absorbed by legal markets, meaning much of the leaf is diverted for illicit use. In recent months, authorities discovered several cocaine laboratories near the Peruvian border and claimed drug production was rising. Following the release of a government study detailing legal coca needs, the European Union expressed concern over increased cocaine production as well as transit through the country.

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