Bolivian authorities have discovered a massive half-built cocaine laboratory and arrested 10 Colombians in the country's eastern Santa Cruz department, highlighting the area's importance to the international drug trade.
The laboratory was discovered during an operation carried out by Bolivia's anti-narcotics police unit (FELCN) in a rural area near the city of Santa Cruz. One Bolivian and 10 Colombians believed to be assisting in the construction process were found on the premises and arrested, reported La Razon.
According to FELCN Departmental Director Paul Saavedra, the laboratory was in the last phases of construction and would have been ready to begin operations the following week, with the capacity to produce up to 800 kilos of cocaine per week. Some $500,000 was reportedly spent on building the lab.
Saavedra noted that the laboratory had "Colombian characteristics" and that at least seven such laboratories have already been discovered by authorities this year.
InSight Crime Analysis
Santa Cruz -- which connects the coca-producing Cochabamba department to Brazil and Paraguay -- has become a regional hub for drug traffickers, with Brazil's First Capital Command (PCC) prison gang and Colombian organizations both present here. FELCN authorites discovered 91 cocaine laboratories in the department in May 2012, one indication of the sheer amount of cocaine processing taking place in the region.
As a result of the spread of organized crime groups in Santa Cruz, in October 2012 Bolivia's government decided to install a permanent military base in the department to combat drug trafficking.