Authorities in Bolivia last year confiscated almost 600 metric tons of precursor chemicals used to process cocaine, underlining the nation's importance in the South American chain of production for the drug.
Officials from Bolivia's Chemical Substances Investigation Group (El Groupo de Investigaciones de Sustancias Químicas- GISUQ) reported that in 2015 they seized 597,134 kilos of solid and 1.1 million liters of liquid cocaine precursors, El Deber reported. GISUQ is a dependency of the Special Force for Fighting Drug Trafficking (Fuerza Especial de Lucha Contra Narcotrafico - FELCN) and its sole purpose is precursor enforcement.
Col. Eduardo Claura, head of GISUQ, told El Deber that 80 percent of cocaine precursors found in Bolivia originate from outside the nation's borders.
Bolivia's vice minister of Social Defense, Felipe Cáceres, told the news outlet that stopping the chemicals from entering the country is a daunting task.
"The precursors come in through almost all the borders; from Brazil, from Peru, from Argentina and from Chile. To a lessor extent from Paraguay," Cáceres said. "There are special controls, just like with drugs, but they get very inventive with the importation these chemicals. They even use construction cement to make coca paste."
There are about 100 different chemical precursors that can be used in the process of converting leaves from the coca plant into cocaine, but only 49 of those are controlled by the Bolivian government. It just isn't practical to control precursors that have normal, everyday uses, such as lemons or cement.
Bolivia has long been both a producer and transit hub for cocaine. The drug is often purified and refined in Bolivia before being smuggled to other nations for domestic use and transshipment. In 2015, the Bolivian government destroyed 4,232 cocaine labs, which are generally very basic structures equipped with unsophisticated items like metal or plastic drums.
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Bolivia, whose indigenous population uses the coca leaf as a mild stimulant much like coffee, continues to struggle in trying to curb its role in the production and trafficking of cocaine. The country is the world's third largest producer of coca leaf and has seen its role as a transit hub for cocaine grow in recent years, even as coca production has been easing.
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The Bolivian government is attempting to crack down on drug trafficking, as the recent joint Brazilian-Bolivian Operation Quijarro shows. Additionally, the Andean nation has recently entered into a joint intelligence sharing center with Peru and Brazil, in order to combat criminal groups. Bolivia is also struggling to prevent cocaine from being flown in to clandestine airstrips from Peru, an occurrence that is so common it's known as the Peru-Bolivia air bridge.
Despite its enforcement efforts, Bolivia is likely to continue to be a major production and transit center for cocaine, particularly as domestic consumption of cocaine surges in neighboring nations, especially Brazil and Argentina.