HomeNewsBriefBolivia Minister Sticks to Party Line on Foreign Cartel Presence
BRIEF

Bolivia Minister Sticks to Party Line on Foreign Cartel Presence

BOLIVIA / 21 MAR 2017 BY DAVID GAGNE EN

Bolivia’s interior minister said emissaries of Brazilian and Colombian drug trafficking groups are operating within the Andean nation, but the scope of foreign participation in the country’s drug trade could be greater than the minister admits. 

Interior Minister Carlos Romero said “emissaries” of the Brazilian prison gangs Red Command (Comando Vermelho) and First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC) are operating in the country, reported El Deber. He also stated there have been examples of Colombian drug trafficking groups sending envoys to Bolivia. 

“Cartels do not operate in Bolivia like [they do] in Brazil, Colombia and Mexico,” Romero said. “We are a transit nation. While it’s true there aren’t cartels, there are emissaries who can make transactions, that we don’t deny.”

The minister added he has seen no evidence of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel operating in the country. Those comments were in response to recent reporting by Spanish journalist David Beriain, who said incarcerated Sinaloa boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán bought cocaine in Bolivia for $2,500 per kilogram and resold it in Mexico for $17,000 per kilogram. 

“We are very interested to know more about the Spanish journalist’s version, to see how serious it is and also to analyze if it has elements that we could investigate,” Romero said. 

InSight Crime Analysis

Romero’s comments hew to the long-held official narrative that foreign emissaries, but not cartels, are active in Bolivia. Security officials have been careful to make this distinction since at least as far back as 2012. In 2014, Bolivia’s top anti-drug official at the time told InSight Crime that foreign “emissaries have ties with criminal clans” in the country, but stopped short of saying transnational organized crime had taken root. 

There are, however, indications that foreign drug trafficking groups have a more permanent presence in Bolivia than the party line would suggest. In July 2014, police in Santa Cruz arrested a Colombian accused of establishing an “oficina de cobro,” a criminal structure that has its roots in Pablo Escobar’s Medellín Cartel. The large number of suspects from Colombia — and of other nationalities as well — captured during drug raids also points to a sustained foreign presence in Bolivia.  

SEE ALSO: Evo’s Challenge: Bolivia the Drug Hub

The statements by Romero and others could be an attempt to downplay Bolivia’s role in South America’s drug trade. The Andean nation is both a producer and transit nation for cocaine heading to Brazil, the world’s second largest market for the drug. Bolivia also shares borders with the region’s largest producer of marijuana, Paraguay, and two of its top consumers, Argentina and Chile. 

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