Bolivian authorities dismantled 91 cocaine laboratories in the eastern department of Santa Cruz, a key hub for drug trafficking activity in Bolivia.
In the operation, which began on May 30 in the village of San German, members of Bolivia's anti-narcotics police unit (FELCN) discovered 91 laboratories hidden in some of the villagers' homes, reported EFE news agency.
Police arrested 20 people in San German and also destroyed a clandestine airstrip they say was used to send some 300 kilograms of cocaine every 20 days to Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. According to the FELCN's director, Colonel Gonzalo Quezada, the police are searching for a Colombian man they believe oversaw trafficking operations in the area.
Some of the labs had the capacity to produce up to 100 kilograms of cocaine per day, reported El Diario.
InSight Crime Analysis
The fact that all the labs were located in Santa Cruz state is not surprising. The state has become a key operations base for drug traffickers, with some suggesting that as many as 3,000 Colombian traffickers may have a presence there. On top of this, there is evidence to suggest that Brazilian groups such as the Red Command (Comando Vermelho) and the First Capital Command (PCC) also have a hand in trafficking operations there.
The importance of Santa Cruz may be largely based on its location. The department borders Cochabamba, one of the largest producers of the coca leaf and Brazil, the highest consumer of cocaine in Latin America. A Brazilian Embassy official in Bolivia estimated in December that Brazil receives as much as 80 percent of the cocaine produced in Bolivia.
In recent years, drug lab technology in Bolivia has progressed substantially, moving from open air maceration pits to a more sophisticated process frequently seen in Colombia involving more precursor chemicals to process the coca leaf, making the extraction of the cocaine alkaloid more efficient. One such lab was destroyed in Santa Cruz in August last year in what police said was the biggest find of the year.