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Scandal-Plagued Bolivia Trumpets Drug Seizure Figures

BOLIVIA / 4 MAR 2016 BY ARRON DAUGHERTY EN

Bolivia's government has touted an increase in drug seizures as a sign of improving interdiction capabilities, while an ongoing scandal involving President Evo Morales continues to unfold. 

In the first two months of 2016, Bolivia's Special Fighting Force Against Drug Trafficking (Fuerza Especial de Lucha Contra el Narcotráfico - FELCN) seized 69.48 tons of drugs, nearly as much as the 70 tons seized in the first seven months of 2015, reported La Razón.  

Celebrating the new seizure figures, Interior Minister Carlos Romero said, "This is the result of the magnitude of operations deployed along border areas. The data can also be attributed to the incorporation of new elements that have increased operational efficiency."  

According to Defense Minister Felipe Cáceres, the majority of the seizures were made in the department of Santa Cruz, which shares a border with Brazil and Paraguay. 

Meanwhile, the investigation into Gabriela Zapata, a former mistress of President Evo Morales who was recently arrested on charges of illicit enrichment and influence peddling, continues to move forward. On March 2, authorities raided Zapata's house in La Paz to search for documents pertinent to the case. 

In a press conference, Romero claimed Morales has received death threats and that the scandal involving Zapata was part of a conspiracy against his administration, reported AFP. Morales himself said the allegations could be part of an attempt to remove him from power.

InSight Crime Analysis

While authorities are suggesting the recent seizure figures point to improved anti-drug efforts, the reality may not be so promising.  

For starters, cocaine only represented a fractional percentage of the nearly 70 tons of drugs seized in the last two months. This suggests authorities are making little headway against the transnational criminal groups operating the air bridge that sends huge amounts of cocaine by plane from Peru to Brazil via Bolivia. 

What's more, two months of data does not indicate a lasting trend, and seizure statistics are not always a reliable measure of a country's capacity for drug interdiction. Indeed, cocaine seizures rose each year between 2008 and 2012 before falling sharply in 2013, despite Bolivia's status as an emerging drug hub in the region. 

SEE ALSO: Evo's Challenge: Bolivia the Drug Hub

The high seizure figures come as the scandal involving Morales and his former mistress continues to pick up steam. The strong reaction by Morales and his administration indicates just how damaging the political fallout could be for the president. 

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