Authorities in Bolivia have arrested the Andean nation’s former anti-drug chief as he tried to flee the country, but how exactly he may be connected to the regional drug trade remains unclear.
On January 22, police detained Maximiliano Dávila Pérez, the former head of Bolivia’s anti-drug unit (Fuerza Especial de Lucha Contra el Narcotráfico - FELCN), as he reportedly tried to cross the country’s southern border into Argentina, the Interior Ministry announced in a press release.
Prosecutors charged Dávila, who served atop the FELCN in 2019 under former President Evo Morales, with illicit enrichment and for allegedly having “certain links” to drug trafficking. They did not provide any further information about what those links might be, nor to whom.
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While Bolivian officials have their own case on Dávila, local press reports cited a supposed US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigation into him as well, which reportedly led to criminal charges being brought against him and others in New York state.
“We have requested more information from the United States Embassy, through the Foreign Ministry, on the case denounced by the DEA,” Bolivian officials said in the press release.
A DEA spokesperson told InSight Crime the agency could not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation, and the US Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York declined to comment.
Bolivia’s Attorney General’s Office has since ordered Dávila to be held in pre-trial detention for a period of six months, citing probable cause and him being a flight risk. Before entering jail, Dávila told the press that he was “innocent” and a “victim of the petty bourgeois who seeks to incriminate [former] President Morales.”
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Allegations of official misconduct have surrounded Dávila for years, but it’s not clear whether or not he is truly the target of a DEA investigation and facing drug charges in the United States.
That said, he has had some past run-ins with organized crime.
After being extradited to Brazil in November 2019 on drug charges, suspected Bolivian drug trafficker Pedro Montenegro alleged in a letter published through his lawyer that Dávila had unjustly persecuted him. For his part, Montenegro allegedly bought official protection from Bolivian police in Santa Cruz department, a criminally strategic region bordering both Brazil and Paraguay.
What’s more, in January 2020, Dávila was reportedly present at the Guayaramerín airport in Beni department - a main departure point for Bolivian cocaine headed to Brazil - when a plane carrying more than a ton of cocaine departed for Mexico. Authorities in the Caribbean state of Quintana Roo later intercepted the plane - without the assistance of Bolivian authorities - and arrested two Bolivian nationals traveling on board.
It's not clear what role Dávila may have played, as he was never charged or arrested in connection to the flight. Later that year, the former head of the Regional Directorate of Civil Aeronautics (Dirección Regional de Aeronáutica Civil - DRAC) in Beni was arrested on charges he allegedly authorized the plane's landing and its departure from Bolivia.
More recently, local media reports - citing the apparent DEA investigation - have linked Dávila to Omar Rojas Echeverría, a former mid-ranking Bolivian police officer and suspected drug trafficker that Colombian authorities arrested in April 2021 as part of what they described as a joint operation with Peruvian and US officials. He is reportedly wanted for extradition to the United States, but the DEA never made any public mention of the April operation that lead to his arrest.
Rojas allegedly had the official contacts to “facilitate the entry of aircraft to clandestine airstrips in the department of Beni, where they were loaded” with cocaine, according to Colombian police. Officials said he also “coordinated drug shipments with Peruvian drug traffickers and Mexican cartels.”
Citing the DEA's possible investigation, the Bolivian media dubbed Rojas the “Pablo Escobar of Bolivia.” However, as opposed to large-scale traffickers, Bolivia is more known today for its drug trafficking family clans.
Rather, this mention may have been in reference to Jorge Roca Suárez, alias “Techo de Paja,” who was arrested in Peru in March 2021 as part of the same operation that later brought down Rojas. Roca Suárez had a long criminal career dating back to the 1980s, when he and his uncle, Roberto Suárez, once known as the “King of Cocaine” in Bolivia, allegedly provided cocaine to Escobar, the former Medellín Cartel boss.
It’s not clear what connections Dávila may have had to Rojas, and by extension Roca Suárez and the cocaine trade. The DEA would not comment on that possibility and said the agency could not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation.