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

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: Juan Ramón Matta Ballesteros

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: Juan Ramón Matta Ballesteros

On the morning of April 5, 1988, Juan Ramón Matta Ballesteros left his palatial Tegucigalpa estate for a jog. Matta Ballesteros was wanted for murder, drug trafficking and other crimes in several countries, but in Honduras he felt safe. He regularly hosted parties for high-level officials at...

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The CICIG

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The CICIG

Like any arm of the justice system, the United Nations-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala - CICIG) had its battles with elites who used their charm and their muscle to try to influence what and who the celebrated commission...

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The 'Huistas'

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The 'Huistas'

In the northwest corner of Guatemala, a little known criminal organization known as the "Huistas" dominates the underworld, in large part due its ties with businessmen, law enforcement officials and politicians.

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: The Cachiros

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: The Cachiros

As it tends to happen in Honduras, the news began as a well-heeled rumor: Javier Rivera Maradiaga, the oldest of the three Rivera Maradiaga brothers still alive and leader of the feared and powerful Honduran drug trafficking group known as the Cachiros, had handed himself in to...

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Guatemala is Central America’s most populous country and its largest economy. But an intransigent elite, an ambitious military and a weak state has opened the way for organized crime to flourish, especially since the return of democracy.

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Jorge 40'

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Jorge 40'

Rodrigo Tovar Pupo never imagined it would come to this: dressed in an orange jumpsuit in a Washington DC courtroom and standing in front of a United States federal judge, the grandson of a wealthy Colombian cattle rancher and nephew to a governor was facing a possible...

Elites and Organized Crime: Conceptual Framework - Organized Crime

Elites and Organized Crime: Conceptual Framework - Organized Crime

This project defines organized crime as: a structured group of people that associate on a regular and prolonged basis to benefit from illicit activities and illegal markets. This group can be local, national or transnational in nature, and its existence is maintained using violence and threats; corruption...

The FARC and the Drug Trade: Siamese Twins?

The FARC and the Drug Trade: Siamese Twins?

The FARC have always had a love-hate relationship with drugs. They love the money it brings, funds which have allowed them to survive and even threaten to topple the state at the end of the 1990s. They hate the corruption and stigma narcotics have also brought to...

Elites and Organized Crime: Preface

Elites and Organized Crime: Preface

Organized crime is not an abstract concept for me. I grew up in Oak Park, a leafy suburb of Chicago with a population of about 60,000. In general, it was a very low crime city, which is perhaps why many mobsters made their homes there, among them...

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Don Berna'

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Don Berna'

By the end of 1993, Pablo Escobar was cornered. The cocaine king -- known as "El Patrón" -- was running out of money and options. His top assassins were either dead or had turned themselves in. Almost all of the senior members of the Medellín Cartel were...