Are Bolivia Drug Trafficking Clans Migrating South?

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Authorities in Bolivia claim effective policing has displaced local drug trafficking organizations from the north to the south of the country, which, if accurate, is a change more likely driven by market dynamics than security forces pressure.

According to Vice Minister for Social Defense Felipe Caceres, the family-based crime clans that are traditionally involved in Bolivian drug trafficking have relocated from the north of the northwestern province of La Paz to the southern Chaco region, reported La Prensa.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Bolivia

Caceres said the shift had come as a result of successful policing and that few traffickers were left in the northern sector. The official added that local clans were working alongside foreign trafficking groups, principally Colombians, Paraguayans and Brazilians, in the south of the country, reported La Razon.

InSight Crime Analysis

While local press reports frame this apparent migration as a “victory,” in reality Caceres’ comments are suggestive of a situation where drug trafficking has simply been displaced, not defeated to any degree.

It is true that security forces operations have been ramped up in the north of the country, in large part due to aggressive protests among coca growers over eradication initiatives, and therefore it is plausible that traffickers chose to relocate to avoid this pressure.

However, this would only be another example of the “balloon effect” seen throughout the region — whereby security forces pressure squeezes criminal activity in one location, resulting in it relocating to somewhere where there is less heat. This would likely have little bearing on the functioning of the drug trade in the country.

What’s more, with foreign organized crime taking a growing interest in Bolivia, any shift may also be driven by the dynamics of the market. The Chaco region is an expansive area of arid lowland which traverses Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay.

With Argentina a key retail market, export departure point and source of precursor chemicals, Brazil representing an even bigger market and export departure point, and Paraguay a transit route, the south and east of Bolivia is much more significant than the north to trafficking operations run by both local and foreign groups. It is also where many of the drug flights arriving from Peru land, and Peruvian cocaine powder and base represent the lion’s share of the drugs that pass through Bolivia.

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