Bolivian police examine a seized stolen vehicle

The Bolivian government has vowed to crack down on the thriving trade in vehicles stolen in neighboring countries and trafficked into Bolivia, which is a major source of funding for criminal groups in the region.

On October 17, the head of Bolivia’s anti-auto theft office, Jorge Saravia, announced that the country was coordinating a “mega-operation” with Argentina, Chile and Brazil to crack down on transnational automobile theft.

"We are working to address the problem and deepen the fight against transnational mafias who steal vehicles in those countries and have connections with other criminal organizations," Saravia said. He added that he would meet with Argentine officials in the coming days to work out the plan.

Although the official did not elaborate on the details of this proposed international operation, he later announced that law enforcement officials in Bolivia would conduct a series of raids to seize cars with unregistered or copycat license plates in the country.

Bolivia has become a hub of transnational car theft in South America in recent years, a development which was only made worse by the government’s decision to grant a window of amnesty to the owners of unregistered vehicles (many of them likely stolen) in June-July 2011, allowing them to pay a moderate fee to get legal documents. The amnesty had an immediate impact in neighboring countries, with officials in Chile, Brazil and Argentina complaining that the move caused an uptick in robberies.

InSight Crime Analysis

The issue is about more than just transnational car thefts in the region, or even Bolivia’s lax approach to vehicle registration. It provides a window into the state of organized crime in Bolivia, where powerful crime families dominate the country's underworld, and may be forming closer transnational ties.

As InSight Crime has reported, analysts believe that the Bolivian crime syndicates who purchase these stolen vehicles often directly exchange cocaine for cars. According to Brazil’s former Security Minister Jose Vicente da Silva Filho, a quality car stolen in Brazil can be exchanged in Bolivia for about 10 kilos of the drug. Argentine and Chilean officials have also reported that car traffickers exchange the vehicles for cocaine from Bolivian groups.

While little is publicly known about the structure of the networks behind Bolivia’s thriving trade in stolen vehicles, the profile of those identified by the government as the main perpetrators of the trade seems to match the domestic drug trafficking clans. On October 17, Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera told reporters that many of those responsible for the trade in stolen vehicles in the southern city of Challapata were “multimillionaire family networks” which manage “extensive resources.”

At the very least, the fact that vendors of stolen cars operate in the south along the borders with Chile and Argentina points to the existence of networks for moving cars and drugs within Bolivia. As a map compiled by InSight Crime indicates, most coca base in the country is produced in laboratories the central highlands and the eastern department of Santa Cruz.

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

Justice and the Creation of a Mafia State in Guatemala

Justice and the Creation of a Mafia State in Guatemala

As Guatemala's Congress gears up to select new Supreme Court Justices and appellate court judges, InSight Crime is investigating how organized crime influences the selection process. This story details the interests of one particular political bloc vying for control over the courts and what's at stake: millions of ...

The Victory of the Urabeños - The New Face of Colombian Organized Crime

The Victory of the Urabeños - The New Face of Colombian Organized Crime

The mad scramble for criminal power in the aftermath of the demobilization of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) is over. The Urabeños, or as they prefer to call themselves, the "Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia," have won.

50 years of the FARC: War, Drugs and Revolution

50 years of the FARC: War, Drugs and Revolution

The possibility of ending nearly 50 years of civil conflict is in sight. While the vast majority of the Colombian public want to see peace, for themselves and especially for their children, the enemies of the peace negotiations appear to be strong, and the risks inherent in the ...

Mexico’s Security Dilemma: Michoacan’s Militias

 Mexico’s Security Dilemma: Michoacan’s Militias

Well-armed vigilantes in Mexico's Michoacan state have helped authorities dismantle a powerful criminal organization, but now the government may have a more difficult task: keeping Michoacan safe from the vigilantes and rival criminal groups.

Uruguay, Organized Crime and the Politics of Drugs

Uruguay, Organized Crime and the Politics of Drugs

After the lower house passed the controversial marijuana bill July 31, Uruguay is poised to become the first country on the planet to regulate the production, sale, and distribution of the drug, and provide a model for countries looking for alternatives to the world’s dominant drug policy paradigm. ...

The Zetas in Nuevo Laredo

The Zetas in Nuevo Laredo

After the capture of Zetas boss "Z40," Nuevo Laredo is bracing itself for the worst. This investigation breaks down what makes the city such an important trafficking corridor, and what it will take for the Zetas to maintain their grip on the city.

El Salvador's Gang Truce: Positives And Negatives

El Salvador's Gang Truce: Positives And Negatives

Whether it is sustainable or not, the truce -- which the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and the Barrio 18 put into place March 2012 -- has changed the conventional thinking about who the gangs are and what is the best way to handle the most difficult law and order ...

FARC, Peace and Possible Criminalization

FARC, Peace and Possible Criminalization

The possibility of ending nearly 50 years of civil conflict is in sight. While the vast majority of the Colombian public want to see peace, for themselves and especially for their children, the enemies of the peace negotiations appear to be strong, and the risks inherent in the ...

Corruption in El Salvador: Politicians, Police and Transportistas

Corruption in El Salvador: Politicians, Police and Transportistas

Since the end of El Salvador's civil war, the country's police has become a key player in the underworld. This series of five articles explore the dark ties between criminal organizations and the government's foremost crime fighting institution.

Juarez after the War

Juarez after the War

As a bitter war between rival cartels grinds to an end, Ciudad Juarez has lost the title of world murder capital, and is moving towards something more like normality. InSight Crime looks at the role politicians, police, and for-hire street gangs played in the fighting -- asking who ...