Recent official data indicates that Chile's role as a transit nation for drug trafficking has increased in recent years, a pattern that authorities say is directly correlated to the country's geographic position between drug producers and consumer markets.
The Observatory on Drug Trafficking in Chile, which operates under the auspices of the Attorney General's Office, found in its annual report released on December 14 that the trafficking of numerous types of illicit drugs is on the rise. Seizures of LSD, ecstasy, cocaine, coca paste and marijuana have all increased since 2009, and the report highlighted the growing presence of synthetic drugs in the country.
The report argues that the observed patterns are clearly correlated with Chile's geographic location, citing a 2016 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) that came to the same conclusion. Chile serves as a transshipment point for cocaine leaving the coca-producing countries of Bolivia and Peru that is destined for consumer markets in Europe and Africa. According to the UNODC, 9 percent of the cocaine trafficking incidents registered on African soil were linked back to Chile.
With an estimated 71 percent of the cocaine from Bolivia passing through Arica, the Chilean port appears to be one of the major transshipment points in the country, along with the other coastal cities of Iquique, Antofagasta and Mejillones.
According to the report, the country is not only the recipient of foreign drugs but also of foreign criminal structures. The study points to a recent police operation against Colombian drug traffickers who may have been operating in Chile as far back as 2006.
The report also addresses the government's response to the drug trade, arguing that police operations combined with prison sentences are not enough to tackle the issue. Citing the high prevalence of repeat drug offenders, the authors of the report said that the authorities must focus more attention on prevention and rehabilitation.
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Chile's geographic location, its extensive borders and its broad coastline renders it an attractive spot for moving drug shipments through the region and abroad. In addition to its borders with Peru and Bolivia, Chile shares a lengthy frontier with Argentina, where domestic drug consumption is reportedly on the rise.
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While the report does not provide estimates on the proportion of drugs moving through Chile that are destined for the domestic market, growing drug consumption within traditional transshipment countries is a trend that has previously been seen in Brazil and Argentina.
It appears this trend may also be taking place in Chile, at least in the marijuana market. UNODC statistics compiled by Vice News show that Chile holds the highest marijuana consumption rate in the region among youth aged 15 to 18, with nearly 33 percent of this population having consumed the drug at least once in the past year.