Bolivia may be preparing to ramp up its anti-narcotics strategy in 2016 amidst evidence of an increasing presence of transnational criminal organizations within its borders, further underscoring its role as a drug hub for the region.
On January 11, President Evo Morales asked the High Command of the Armed Forces (Alto Mando Militar de las Fuerzas Armadas - FFAA) to strengthen Bolivia's border enforcement, reported La Razon. At the meeting, which was the first of 2016 between the president and the FFAA, Morales specifically expressed concern over drug trafficking in some of Bolivia's national parks.
Morales' request was made on the same day that Felipe Cáceres, Vice Minister of Social Defense and Controlled Substances, admitted that emissaries working for criminal organizations from Brazil, Mexico and possibly other Central American countries are active in Bolivia.
Cáceres announced that the government is seeking to eradicate a minimum of 5,000 hectares of coca in 2016, which is less than goals in previous years. Caceres also stated that in 2014 and 2015, 65 narco-planes were confiscated.
InSight Crime Analysis
Bolivian officials' remarks come at a time when Bolivia's status as a transit nation for illicit drugs is intensifying, in addition to its long-standing role as a drug producer. Bolivia is the central point for the cocaine air bridge, which, according to one estimate, involves the transport of 200 tons of cocaine every year from Peru to Bolivia, then onwards to other contries.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Bolivia
It is hardly a surprise that Felipe Caceres accuses Brazilian criminal organizations of having emissaries working in Bolivia. Brazil is the second largest illicit drug-consuming country after the United States. In order to feed this demand, Brazil's two most powerful criminal organizations, the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital - PCC) and Red Command (Comando Vermelho) have steadily increased their presence in other South American countries.
Given the estimated amount of cocaine that is being moved from Peru to Bolivia by air, 65 confiscated narco-planes is a relatively small number. This is in part because Bolivia's law enforcement lacks the equipment necessary to intercept drug flights. However, in November, Bolivia agreed to purchase $215 million worth of radar equipment from a French company to be used in its anti-narcotics efforts, so its ability to track narco-planes should drastically increase after the purchase and implementation is complete.