HomeNewsBriefBolivia Dealing with Contraband Surge During Pandemic
BRIEF

Bolivia Dealing with Contraband Surge During Pandemic

BOLIVIA / 3 DEC 2020 BY MAX RADWIN EN

Authorities in Bolivia this month have seized several large contraband shipments, as the country's economic struggles with the COVID-19 pandemic continue to increase demand for black market goods.

Cigarettes, alcohol, vehicles and agricultural products are being smuggled into Bolivia from Peru and Chile, among other neighboring countries – the possible result of shifting border dynamics and widespread unemployment caused by the pandemic.

In just one week, more than 70 vehicles were captured during numerous operations in Oruro, a department bordering Chile. Close to 60 tons of wine, beer and other alcoholic products were confiscated by Bolivian authorities at the Argentine border.

In mid-November, over 180 sacks of contraband potatoes were seized on their way to La Paz, after having entered the country from Peru. Other agricultural and dairy products – as well as pork and beef – have also been commonly smuggled in from neighboring countries.

SEE ALSO: Bolivia’s New President Faces Complex Drug Scenario

"The reason that we in Bolivia have problems with development and strengthening the economy is contraband. It drives down prices and we deal with third-rate products," Colonel Gonzalo Rodriguez, a senior official at the Vice Ministry for the Fight against Contraband, told InSight Crime.

The smuggling of food products specifically has forced industry leaders to speak out as their profit margins shrink. According to the Agricultural Chamber of Eastern Bolivia (Cámara Agropecuaria del Oriente – CAO), pork producers are reporting a 20 percent decrease in their farm production.

Insight Crime Analysis

While the flow of contraband into Bolivia is not a new phenomenon, it appears to be ratcheting up as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which complicated illicit cross-border operations earlier in the year and intensified the demand for cheap essential goods.

Many products are brought in through border checkpoints on transportation trucks, which hide the contraband among legally registered goods, a security expert in Bolivia told InSight Crime. But when the country began to close its borders in mid-March, it became much more difficult for trucks to continue the practice. Only once border restrictions started relaxing later in the year did the contraband begin to flow again, often at an expedited pace in order to make up the loss.

SEE ALSO: Business As Usual? Cocaine Seizures On the Rise At Bolivia-Brazil Border

Agricultural contraband tends to flow from Peru, while vehicles and electronics enter from Chile, with alcohol and flour coming from Argentina, the expert said. Grains also tend to enter from Brazil, but at a much smaller scale.

Some of that contraband also makes its way into Bolivia via informal border points that receive little or no oversight. According to the Vice Ministry for the Fight against Contraband, smugglers were active in these routes throughout the pandemic, since black markets were immediately ready to supply residents as soon as they started to emerge from quarantine.

This suggests that Bolivia’s black market continues to be driven by economic need. Right now, the country’s Center for Labor and Agrarian Development is reporting some of the worst spikes in unemployment and poverty in decades – largely due to COVID-19. In addition to purchasing cheap contraband goods, residents are relying on the black market for temporary employment.

This puts the government in a difficult position as it continues to combat smuggling but has yet to provide its citizens with other economic opportunities. Frustration boiled over at the end of November, when residents attacked Ministry of Defense officials that were visiting Opoqueri, a town along a prolific contraband route.

In July, the interim government announced a plan to subsidize thousands of employee salaries. But incoming President Luis Arce said a complete economic recovery might still take until 2022, meaning that demand for informal goods could continue to be a driver of smuggling activity in Bolivia for years to come.

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.

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

BRAZIL / 19 JAN 2021

Authorities in Brazil have dismantled a criminal organization specialized in the cloning of debit cards to steal emergency aid and…

COLOMBIA / 22 DEC 2021

Welcome to InSight Crime’s Criminal  GameChangers 2021, where we highlight the most important trends in organized crime in the Americas over the course…

COVID AND CRIME / 1 SEP 2021

The Mexican government is highlighting a record number of remittances sent back to the country by citizens living in the…

About InSight Crime

WORK WITH US

Open Position: Full Stack WordPress Developer

28 NOV 2022

As Full Stack WordPress Developer You Will: Work collaboratively with other developers and designers to maintain and improve organizational standards.Demonstrate a high level of attention to detail, and implement best…

THE ORGANIZATION

Join Us This #GivingTuesday in Exposing Organized Crime

24 NOV 2022

For over twelve years, InSight Crime has contributed to the global dialogue on organized crime and corruption. Our work has provided policymakers, analysts, academics, journalists, and the general public with…

THE ORGANIZATION

Like Crime, Our Coverage Knows No Borders

18 NOV 2022

The nature of global organized crime means that while InSight Crime focuses on Latin America, we also follow criminal dynamics worldwide. InSight Crime investigator Alessandro Ford covers the connections between Latin American and European…

THE ORGANIZATION

Using Data to Expose Crime

11 NOV 2022

Co-director Jeremy McDermott made a virtual presentation at a conference hosted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The ‘Sixth International Conference on Governance, Crime, and Justice…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime ON AIR

4 NOV 2022

InSight Crime Co-director Steven Dudley was interviewed for the podcast The Rosenberg Case: A Tale of Murder, Corruption, and Conspiracy in Guatemala, which explores the potential involvement of then president, Álvaro Colom,…