Three alleged members of the Brazilian PCC prison gang have been arrested in the Bolivian department of Santa Cruz, as foreign cartels increase their presence in this vulnerable drug-producing nation, despite continuing government denials.
The three men — one Peruvian and two Colombians — were detained in operations carried out in the eastern department of Santa Cruz between January 15 and 19, reported La Razon. They are suspected of belonging to the First Capital Command (PCC) and participating in a network that produced and sent narcotics across the border into Brazil.
In a government communique released January 20, the captured men were referred to as “emissaries,” of the PCC, reported Caracol Radio. Bolivian Interior Minister Carlos Romero hailed the arrests as being a “severe blow to drug trafficking.”
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The choice of language, referring to the men as emissaries, is in keeping with the government’s desire to play down the presence of foreign drug trafficking gangs on its soil. This line was strayed from briefly last November when the director of Bolivia’s anti-narcotics police, the FELCN, told La Razon that the PCC does in fact have a presence in the country. Social Defense Deputy Minister Felipe Caceres quickly denied this, continuing to refer to the presence as being merely that of emissaries.
One curious point in this case is the allegation that the two Colombian nationals were working with the PCC rather than Colombian gangs. Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin claimed last year that Colombian drug trafficking groups were active in the country, while in 2011 an anonymous Colombian intelligence official estimated there to be some 3,000 Colombian criminals active in Bolivia.
Santa Cruz is perhaps the most vital area in Bolivia for drug traffickers. Not only is it the site for much of the country’s cocaine production, it also borders Brazil, the biggest market for Bolivian cocaine and the second largest consumer of the drug after the United States. One Brazilian embassy official estimated in 2011 that between 60 and 80 percent of all Bolivian cocaine ends up in Brazil.