Bolivia Hunt for ‘Mega Gangs’ Highlights Foreign Criminal Presence

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Authorities in Bolivia are going after five criminal “mega gangs” that include foreign members, underscoring the country’s status as a destination for migrating criminals and threat this poses to security. 

On May 15, the director of national intelligence announced that police in the cities of Santa Cruz and La Paz are looking for five gangs with members from Colombia, Mexico and Peru, reported La Prensa. According to Bolivian authorities, these groups are mainly dedicated to robbing banks, jewelry stores, companies that provide loans and money wiring services.       

This announcement comes shortly after a Bolivian and a Colombian were captured with weapons allegedly used by the “megabandas.” Several other foreign gang members have been arrested over the past year, including the Peruvian leader of Los Nuevos Injertos, a group that carries out armed robberies in Peru and Bolivia.    

InSight Crime Analysis                                                     

Bolivian authorities have been aware of the presence of foreign criminal groups for years, so this recent crackdown is likely part of an effort to rid Santa Cruz of criminal groups before the G77+China summit, which the city will host on June 14 and 15. The Bolivian government transplanted 500 police officers from other cities to Santa Cruz on May 11 and plans to increase the number of police to 4,500 by the time the summit begins. 

SEE ALSO: Bolivia News and Profiles

Bolivia has long been a haven for operatives from foreign drug trafficking organizations who are drawn to the country by its status as a cocaine producer and drug trafficking transit nation. In 2011, a Colombian intelligence officer estimated that up to 3,000 Colombian drug traffickers operate out of the department of Santa Cruz. Brazilian and Mexican criminal groups also work in this region, including the Brazilian prison gang the First Capital Command (PCC). The multinational nature of Bolivia’s criminal presence also appears to have had an effect on the groups operating there, with a Peruvian and two Colombians allegedly integrated into the PCC arrested in Santa Cruz in 2013.     

In addition to relocating to Bolivia, Colombian criminal groups have also established a presence in Argentina and Peru. What is unique about the “mega gangs” Bolivian police are currently looking for, however, is that their principal economic activity appears to be armed robbery, rather than drug trafficking. Their modus operandi suggests that foreign criminals, possibly driven from their own countries by security crackdowns or their own fugitive status, are dedicating themselves to more than just Bolivia’s drug trade.

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