A spate of arrests of people smuggling cocaine in their stomachs while travelling by bus from Bolivia to Chile has led authorities to make the claim that Chile is now the main destination for "mules" trafficking drugs.
In 12 operations so far this year, Bolivia's Special Anti-Narcotics Police (FELCN) have arrested 29 people along the route from Cochabamba, among them mules (carriers), recruiters, suppliers, and those who prepared the capsules for ingestion, reported La Razon. All but one of those arrested -- a Colombian who converted the cocaine to liquid form -- were Bolivian nationals.
15 mules arrested were passengers on buses headed to Iquique, in north Chile. According to the FELCN, each was offered between $1,000 and $1,200 to ingest approximately one kilo of cocaine, with mules recruited from the ranks of the poor and the desperate. Those responsible for shipping and receiving the drugs were families with members living in both cities, said prosecutors.
According to the FELCN, Chile has now overtaken Argentina and Brazil as the main destination for drugs smuggled by this method.
InSight Crime Analysis
The reports of the FELCN operations raise several questions. Transporting swallowed drugs by bus seems an unusual technique given the ease with which mules could carry the same, relatively small quantities over the border by simply crossing at unmarked points with no border controls -- the "hormiga" (ant) system, which is commonly used to traffic Bolivian cocaine to Argentina.
However, it is true that Chile is becoming an increasingly important transit country for traffickers who both sell cocaine on the domestic market and also move it on to other destinations such as Europe. In the cases of mules leaving from Cochabamba, it is more likely the drugs were destined for sale in Chile, given the comparatively small quantities involved.