Drug traffickers operating along the Bolivia-Brazil cocaine route are buying up Peruvian product because it costs significantly less, according to Bolivia's top counternarcotics official.
According to Colonel Gonzalo Quezada, director of Bolivia's anti-drug police police, about 50 percent of the 7.7 tons of cocaine seized in Bolivia so far in 2013 originated in Peru.
A kilo of cocaine base cost between $800 and $900 in Peru, said Quezada, whereas in Bolivia it cost between $1,000 and $1,200. According to police intelligence, Brazilian organized crime groups have direct links with traffickers working in Peru's Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro river valley region (known as the VRAEM), who export drugs through Bolivia, he added.
Quezada predicted that seizure figures for 2013 would likely be lower than last year, not because there was less cocaine being transported but because traffickers were becoming "more efficient."
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Quezada's comments echo statements made by a drug trafficker last week to a Peruvian newspaper and seizure statistics from previous years, further evidence that significant amounts of Peruvian cocaine are being sent through Bolivia into Brazil, the world's second-largest market for the drug. An estimated 3,000 kilos of cocaine is believed to leave the VRAEM region for Brazil every month, according to one newspaper report published last year. Bolivia's geographical position, porous borders, and weak law enforcement have made it a key transit nation for traffickers, as well as a significant producer of both coca and cocaine.
Why Peruvian cocaine base is so much cheaper than its Bolivian counterpart -- and Colombian, which costs around $1,200 a kilo -- is unclear, but one possible explanation is the quality of its base ingredients. While Peruvian producers still use open-air maceration pits rather than the newer, more efficient "Colombian method," the coca leaf they use is a much more potent strain that that used in Bolivia and Colombia. Being able to get more base out of less leaves, despite using a less efficient method, may be keeping production costs down to an extent that allows them to sell product on at a lower price.