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

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

Local police and justice officials are convinced that the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) has strengthened its presence along the East Coast of the United States. The alarm follows a recent spate of violence -- of the type not seen in a decade -- which included dismembered bodies and...

Homicides in Guatemala: Conclusions and Recommendations

Homicides in Guatemala: Conclusions and Recommendations

Olfato. It is a term used quite often in law enforcement and judicial circles in Central America (and other parts of the world as well). It refers to the sixth sense they have as they see a crime scene, investigate a murder or plow through the paperwork...

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

When violence surged in early 2015 in Guatemala, then-President Otto Pérez Molina knew how to handle the situation: Blame the street gangs. 

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador's prison system is the headquarters of the country's largest gangs. It is also where one of these gangs, the MS13, is fighting amongst itself for control of the organization.

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

The department of Nariño in southwest Colombia is the main coca-producing area in the country and in the world. It is a place scarred by poverty and years of armed conflict between guerrillas, the state and paramilitary groups. Perhaps nowhere else in the country are the challenges...

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

In San Pedro Sula's jailhouse, chaos reigns. The inmates, trapped in their collective misery, battle for control over every inch of their tight quarters. Farm animals and guard dogs roam free and feed off scraps, which can include a human heart. Every day is visitors' day, and...

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's prisons are a reflection of the multiple conflicts that have plagued the country for the last half-century. Paramilitaries, guerrillas and drug trafficking groups have vied for control of the jails where they can continue to manage their operations on the outside. Instead of corralling these forces...

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The prison system in Latin America and the Caribbean has become a prime incubator for organized crime. This overview -- the first of six reports on prison systems that we produced after a year-long investigation -- traces the origins and maps the consequences of the problem, including...

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

In July 2011, members of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) attended a meeting organized in California by a criminal known as "Bad Boy." Among the invitees was José Juan Rodríguez Juárez, known as "Dreamer," who had gone to the meeting hoping to better understand what was beginning to...

Homicides in Guatemala: Collecting the Data

Homicides in Guatemala: Collecting the Data

When someone is murdered in Guatemala, police, forensic doctors and government prosecutors start making their way to the crime scene and a creaky, antiquated 20th century bureaucratic machine kicks into gear. Calls are made. Forms are filled out by hand, or typed into computers, or both. Some...