Chilean authorities dismantled a large cocaine processing lab

Chilean authorities have dismantled yet another cocaine lab, used by a group of Bolivians and Chileans to process the drug into its liquid form, suggesting that Chile's role in the drug trade may be evolving beyond that of a transshipment point.

Following a six-month investigation, Chilean police seized more than 530 kilograms of cocaine and dismantled a large cocaine processing laboratory in the town of Nancagua, roughly 200 kilometers south of the capital Santiago, reported Publimetro on March 28.

In addition to impounding 450 kilograms of liquid cocaine and 85 kilograms of cocaine base, authorities arrested four Chileans who allegedly smuggled the product into the country, and two Bolivians who would process the drug into its liquid form. Police also found precursor chemicals needed to process the drug into its liquid form, reported Cooperativa.

Carlos Yánez, the head of the Antinarcotics and Organized Crime Brigade (Brigada Antinarcóticos y Contra el Crimen Organizado), said that the criminal group was also involved in distributing some of the product in the Santiago metropolitan area, according to Publimetro.

The official also noted that this was the fourth cocaine lab dismantled in the country this year. A total of 16 were discovered last year.

InSight Crime Analysis

The size of the most recently dismantled lab, combined with the fact that nearly 20 other such facilities have been discovered in the past year, suggests that Chile's role in the drug trade might be evolving beyond that of a transshipment country with a sizeable domestic consumption market. Rather than importing refined cocaine products for sale in Chile, crime groups there now appear to be refining the drug themselves.

The dismantled structure appears to have exploited Chile's local consumption market, one of the largest in Latin America, to distribute part of the drugs smuggled in the country. This might have been done by selling directly the cocaine paste -- a cheap form of the drug whose widespread consumption has become a serious challenge for many South American nations -- or refining the product into cocaine powder, which can be sold at a higher price.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Chile

The impounded liquid cocaine, however, was almost certainly destined for exportation. This form -- which was first discovered in 2011 in Bolivia according to BBC Mundo -- is much harder for authorities to detect, and thus easier for traffickers to smuggle across borders. In addition, reports have signaled Chile's role as a transshipment point to be growing.

But if both the cocaine base and the two chemists originated from Bolivia, it is surprising that the suspects chose to process the drug into its liquid form in Chile rather than in Bolivia, which would likely have rendered the smuggling of the product across the border less risky.

One of the reasons that may explain this decision is the accessibility in Chile of precursor chemicals needed for the process, partly due to the country's vast chemical industry. But whereas Chile's precursors were traditionally shipped north to coca-producing countries -- in particular Bolivia and Peru -- the total of 20 dismantled labs since 2016 suggest that this trend may be evolving, and that Chile may become an important processing country in the drug trade, in addition to being a consumption and transshipment point.

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...

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

Throughout the continent, the debate on whether or not the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) gang is working with or for drug traffickers continues. In this investigation, journalist Carlos García tells the story of how a member of the MS13 entered the methamphetamine distribution business under the powerful auspices...

Homicides in Guatemala: Analyzing the Data

Homicides in Guatemala: Analyzing the Data

In the last decade, homicides in Guatemala have obeyed a fairly steady pattern. Guatemala City and some of its surrounding municipalities have the greatest sheer number of homicides. Other states, particularly along the eastern border have the highest homicide rates. Among these are the departments of Escuintla...

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. 

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...

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...

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...

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...

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

José Adán Salazar Umaña is the only Salvadoran citizen currently on the US government's Kingpin List. But in his defense, Salazar Umaña claims is he is an honorable businessman who started his career by exchanging money along the borders between Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. He does...

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Following Guatemala's long and brutal civil war, members of the military were charged, faced trial and sentenced to jail time. Even some members of a powerful elite unit known as the Kaibil were put behind bars. Among these prisoners, none were more emblematic than Captain Byron Lima...