Former Colombian Cartel Members: A New Home in Bolivia?

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Bolivian police suspect that former members of the Norte Del Valle Cartel have infiltrated their borders, following the dismantling of the Colombian organization in 2010.

Spreading into various countries of the region, former members of the Norte Del Valle Cartel are suspected of using Argentine aircraft to deliver hundreds of kilos of cocaine to Spain. Jesus Maria Osorio Torrez – who was arrested with 174 kilos of narcotics linked to operations in La Paz and Santa Cruz – lead Bolivian authorities to John Wilson Dias Velez.  He allegedly entered Bolivia last December with the intent of sending more than 900 kilos of drugs to Spain.
The Commander of the Bolivian Special Forces against Drug Trafficking (FELCN), Coronel Gonzalo Quezada, stated that the former members could be linked to the confiscation of 944 kilos of cocaine at Barcelona’s El Prat airport on 2 January.

According to Bolivian Press, the plane intercepted in Spain travelled from Bolivia. It was here that brothers Gustavo and Eduardo Julia met with Colombians and planned to shipment to Argentina where the cocaine was then flown to Spain on an Argentine aircraft. The New York Times reports that 18 Argentine air force personnel are being held in connection with the find.

The possibility that members of the cartel have moved to Bolivia may reflect Bolivia’s rocky relationship with the United States in the fight against drugs. After accusing the United States of espionage and attempting to overthrow President Morales, Bolivia suspended all activities associated with the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). This prompted the U.S. to suspend Bolivian benefits from the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act.

According to the Washington Times, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) attributes a decrease in Colombian cocaine output to increased U.S anti-drug efforts, while noting a steep rise in Bolivian cocaine production. While the U.S. still provides financial assistance to Bolivia to combat drug traffickers, it is limited and very small scale, when compared to that received by Colombia.

El Pais also stated that Colombian criminal organizations are taking advantage of the technological gap between Bolivia and Colombia. President Morales, commenting on the recent suspicions, recognized that Bolivia lacks the resources to effectively combat incoming Colombians, who use more advanced technology  to refine coca base into cocaine.

Bolivia furthermore serves as a base where coca cultivation is legal and lauded by the indigenous people for its cultural and social value. Up to 49,000 acres of coca are permitted by law in the Yungas and Chapare regions, where excess is eradicated by Bolivian authorities.

President Morales noted that, although there are definitely major drug trafficking organizations operating in his country, it is unclear whether these groups are in fact linked to the Norte Del Valle Cartel.

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