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

CONTRABAND / 1 MAR 2019

Authorities say the Sinaloa Cartel hid a haul of 180 kilograms of methamphetamine inside the spare tires of new cars…

COLOMBIA / 4 SEP 2015

A Venezuelan official has asserted Colombian authorities are responsible for rampant cross border smuggling, yet this finger-pointing ignores the dynamics…

ARGENTINA / 15 JAN 2020

Welcome to InSight Crime's Criminal GameChangers 2019, where we highlight the most important trends in organized crime in the Americas…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Environmental and Academic Praise

17 JUN 2022

InSight Crime’s six-part series on the plunder of the Peruvian Amazon continues to inform the debate on environmental security in the region. Our Environmental Crimes Project Manager, María Fernanda Ramírez,…

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Series on Plunder of Peru’s Amazon Makes Headlines

10 JUN 2022

Since launching on June 2, InSight Crime’s six-part series on environmental crime in Peru’s Amazon has been well-received. Detailing the shocking impunity enjoyed by those plundering the rainforest, the investigation…

THE ORGANIZATION

Duarte’s Death Makes Waves

3 JUN 2022

The announcement of the death of Gentil Duarte, one of the top dissident commanders of the defunct Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), continues to reverberate in Venezuela and Colombia.

THE ORGANIZATION

Cattle Trafficking Acclaim, Investigation into Peru’s Amazon 

27 MAY 2022

On May 18, InSight Crime launched its most recent investigation into cattle trafficking between Central America and Mexico. It showed precisely how beef, illicitly produced in Honduras, Guatemala…

THE ORGANIZATION

Coverage of Fallen Paraguay Prosecutor Makes Headlines

20 MAY 2022

The murder of leading anti-crime prosecutor, Marcelo Pecci, while on honeymoon in Colombia, has drawn attention to the evolution of organized crime in Paraguay. While 17 people have been arrested…