A record drug bust by Chilean armed forces showed that growing public concern about increased drug trafficking in the country is more than justified.
In late November, the Navy intercepted a Peruvian boat sailing in Chilean waters off the northern Tarapacá Region, carrying 532 kilograms of cocaine. More than half a ton of cocaine was confiscated during the operation, a historic haul, according to the institution.
Rear Admiral Alberto Soto, commander of Chile's Fourth Naval Zone, confirmed in a statement that the commercial value of the seizure stood at “close to $14 million dollars, representing the largest seizure ever made by Chilean armed forces.”
Juan Pablo Toro, the executive director of Chilean policy think tank AthenaLab, stated that criminal groups had taken advantage of the pandemic to expand drug trafficking activities in Chile.
"During the pandemic, there was increased pressure on maritime routes, something that we saw coming because of the increased pressure on land borders," Toro told InSight Crime.
The country has also seen notable seizures that came from neighboring Bolivia. In October, two men were arrested having brought in over 300 kilograms of narcotics across the border. And last April, police caught a shipment of over 220 kilograms of coca paste coming from Bolivia.
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This record seizure lends credence to a June report compiled by AthenaLab, which concluded that 79 percent of Chileans considered drug trafficking to be the most severe threat to the country's national security.
And this comes off the back of other rising criminal trends. According to Toro, the increase in drug trafficking has been accompanied by greater levels of micro-trafficking and violence. This has seen authorities challenged during funerals for gang members and even attacks on police stations.
A report by the consultancy firm Atisba also compared data from the country's neighborhoods with the highest levels of micro-trafficking and also found a corresponding increase in violence.
Due to this increase, the Chilean government passed a new decree in August 2019, allowing the armed forces to support police anti-drug operations in border areas, particularly with Bolivia. At the time, this raised concerns, given the bitter cost other Latin American countries have paid after militarizing their anti-drug efforts.
But Toro warned that “if Chile does not take decisive actions, domestic consumption will continue to grow along with efforts to use our infrastructure to export drugs to global markets and to corrupt local governments and institutions.”