Arrest of Bolivia Drug Trafficker Highlights Ties to Foreign Criminal Groups

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Authorities in Bolivia have arrested an alleged major drug trafficker who managed to evade capture for 19 years, in a case that illustrates the links between Bolivian and foreign criminal groups, as well as the difficulties authorities face in combatting the drug trade. 

On October 14, Bolivia’s anti-drug agency (FELCN) announced the capture of Jose Cristobal Delgadillo Valencia, alias “El Cristo,” who had been arrested two days earlier in the city of Santa Cruz after casting his ballot in Bolivia’s presidential election. According to the local FELCN director, Julio Velasquez, investigations revealed that Delgadillo had ties to groups that trafficked drugs to Colombia, Brazil, Paraguay, Peru, and Argentina, reported La Razon.

Velasquez stated that Delgadillo was one of the country’s most dangerous drug traffickers and had been wanted by authorities since 1995, when he was captured while allegedly transporting cocaine destined for Paraguay. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison, but managed to escape.

Delgadillo is also believed to be the owner of a mega cocaine laboratory discovered in 2011 in a national park north of Cochabamba, reported Opinion. Equipped with 21 rooms and a landing strip and guarded by Colombian snipers, the laboratory was estimated to have produced around 100 kilos of cocaine a day.

InSight Crime Analysis

Delgadillo is a good example of how transnational drug trafficking works in Bolivia, as local drug clans primarily work with Colombian and Brazilian traffickers to feed domestic markets in Brazil and Argentina. Bolivia has become a regional drug trafficking hub in recent years, attracting criminal groups from other parts of South America and producing coca base for cocaine and “basuco,” a derivative similar to crack cocaine. The country also serves as a transit point for Paraguayan marijuana and Peruvian coca base. 

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Bolivia

The fact that Delgadillo was able to remain a fugitive for so long is also suggestive of the difficulty that Bolivian authorities are facing in cracking down on organized crime. In spite of his alleged status as a major drug trafficker, Delgadillo not only managed to evade capture for almost 20 years, but was reportedly involved in a major cocaine production operation while keeping authorities at bay.

According to Opinion, Delgadillo used to head a drug clan known as the Jesus Christ group that worked with Paraguayan drug trafficker Marcelino Coleman, who allegedly controlled a quarter of Bolivia’s cocaine trade in the mid-1990s.

Santa Cruz, where Delgadillo was captured, is a major drug hub and hosts both Colombian and Brazilian criminal groups. 

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