Bolivia has made its largest ever seizure of illegal cigarettes, smuggled into the country from Paraguay. However, the confiscation is a small victory in the two countries’ struggle to combat their roles as centers for the regional contraband trade.
Bolivia’s military and Customs Department seized 1,046 crates of Paraguayan cigarettes, valued at $100,102, from a truck on the Santa Cruz-Villamontes highway, which is directly connected with the Paraguay border.
The driver of the truck and an accomplice were arrested and are under investigation. It is presumed they were intending to travel to Peru. Ardaya noted that because the contraband is worth more than $100,000, it is classed as a more serious crime, and that those responsible will be criminally prosecuted.
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The success of the two operations, dubbed “Cuevo XX” and “Los Puchos,” belie the larger problems both Paraguay and Bolivia face in terms of contraband. Neither country has succeeded in stemming the massive amounts of goods illegally flowing across their borders, due to ineptitude, corruption, and a lack of resources in their law enforcement agencies.
In October 2011, Chilean officials indicated that of the 140 illegal overland routes that cross its three borders, 106 were on the Bolivian border. Corruption within the border patrol in Bolivia has reached such a high level that Ardaya recently announced a plan for every official to carry pens with hidden micro-cameras and voice recorders that will remain on during working hours, recording their every move, in the hopes of discouraging collusion with smugglers. Bolivia’s Economy Ministry estimates that the country loses between $300 million and $400 million due to smuggling each year.
Paraguay has grappled with similar issues. In September 2011, Paraguayan marines allegedly fired on Brazilian federal police as the latter were intercepting boats carrying smuggled cigarettes across the border. Just a month later, Brazil militarized the border in an aggressive action aimed at curbing the influx of smuggled goods, including guns, from Paraguay. If the allegations are true, they would indicate collusion with traffickers at the highest level of the Paraguayan security forces.
The two countries have also been unable to control their shared border. Despite Paraguay’s deployment of combat jets last April to patrol the airspace on the border and intercept illegal drug flights, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported in November that smugglers still often used Bolivia-Paraguay air routes to move contraband.
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