A top security official in Bolivia has indicated stolen US planes are used to traffic drugs in the eastern border region, however this revelation -- if true – has little relevance on the country's status as an emerging drug hub.
"There are planes in Miami that are practically stolen, they arrive in Central America, and via Colombia they arrive in Beni," Bolivia's Vice-Minister for Social Defense Felipe Caceres said on December 7.
The remarks were in response to questions about video footage that reportedly shows between five to 10 drug-smuggling aircraft enter Bolivia every day, reported Erbol. Caceres denied these claims, and requested any such video be handed over to the country's Special Counter Narcotics Police Force (FELCN).
Meanwhile, authorities recently captured a plane carrying 300 kilos of coca base in Ichilo, a province in Bolivia's eastern Santa Cruz department, reported El Dia. Ichilo is headquarters to several sophisticated drug trafficking groups, and is a principal producer of coca base in the country.
InSight Crime Analysis
Whether Caceres' remarks on stolen US planes facilitating aerial drug trafficking in the region are true or not, shifting blame to the United States is unlikely to stop the heavy flow of drugs crossing Bolivia's borders. Chilly US-Bolivian relations have led to public spats in the past, and the United States singled out the Andean nation in September as having "failed demonstrably" in drug interdiction efforts over the past year.
The sub-director of FELCN Colonel Marcos Encinas has previously told InSight Crime he believes as much as 30 tons of marijuana and cocaine are trafficked through the country every month. The vast majority of the cocaine is trafficked via air from Peru, the biggest cocaine producer in the world, before transited to the region's largest consumer market, Brazil. The emergence of this cocaine air bridge is likely due to Bolivia's lack of a radar system and other aerial interdiction technologies, rather than the presence of US planes in the region.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Criminal Migration
Caceres' statements also highlight the growing organized crime influence in Bolivia's eastern border department of Beni. The infiltration of Colombian and Brazilian transnational drug trafficking groups into the department has converted Beni into perhaps the most important drug trafficking region in a country fast becoming a hub for both drug smuggling and production operations.