Bolivia Stats Show Apparent Drug War Gains Under Morales

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The Bolivian government has released statistics showing a dramatic increase in cocaine seizures since President Evo Morales assumed power in 2006, countering US claims that Bolivia is failing to uphold its international obligations in combating the drug trade. 

The reports compare the seven years before Morales’ election — 1999-2005 — to the first seven years of the Morales government — 2006-2012. In 2008, Morales expelled the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from Bolivia and implemented a more nationalistic counternarcotics strategy.

The statistics show a big jump in cocaine seizures under Morales. Over 56 tons of cocaine were confiscated between 1999 and 2005 — 46 tons of coca base and nearly 10 tons of cocaine hydrochloride. This more than doubled to 187 tons under Morales — 157 tons of base and nearly 30 tons of cocaine hydrochloride.

The Morales era also saw more than triple the number of drugs labs destroyed, increasing from some 10,600 to over 33,600.

In addition, the government claimed success with a 23 percent drop in coca cultivation, down from 69,000 hectares to 53,000 hectares.

However, the eradication figures paint a more complex picture. Eradication was down in the Morales period, but has been rising since 2009 — the first year without a DEA presence. Last year over 11,000 hectares were eradicated, the highest figure since 2002.

The Bolivian government also compared statistics on counter-narcotics operations. Under Morales, there have been over 82,000 anti-drug operations, up from some 32,000 in the period 1999-2005. These operations saw nearly 28,000 people arrested, close to 2,000 more than in the pre-Morales period. 

InSight Crime Analysis

This appears to be another salvo in the information war between the US and Bolivia. In 2012, the US government labeled Bolivia a country that has “failed demonstrably during the previous 12 months to adhere to their obligations under international counternarcotics agreements.” The release of these statistics seems to be an attempt by the Bolivian government to counter that argument and present their policy in a better light.

To be sure, Bolivia’s counter-narcotics operations have been a highly politicized issue since Morales, a leftist who headed a coca growers union, assumed the presidency. This was exacerbated by the expulsion of the DEA in 2008, ostensibly for “espionage” and “conspiracy” (although according to a WikiLeaks cable because Morales believed he was being followed by the DEA when he visited his girlfriends).

Still, since the DEA was expelled, the only source of information on Bolivian counter-narcotics has been the Bolivian government, and so the statistics have not been independently verified. (As InSight Crime has noted previously, the United States has also been accused of politicizing its figures on Bolivian counternarcotics operations, and is not necessarily a reliable source on this issue.)

What’s more, even if the Bolivian government’s figures are taken at face value, certain aspects of the reports may not represent an unqualified success. For example, a rise in seizures could indicate a rise in the amount of cocaine produced or trafficking through the country, rather than an improvement in law enforcement methods. Indeed, according to contentious US estimates, Bolivia’s potential cocaine production increased by 70 percent between 2006 and 2008, to 195 tons, and remained at that level through 2009 and 2010.

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