Coca-Growing Foreigners in Bolivia Raise Serious Concerns

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Foreigners are coming to Bolivia to grow coca, according to a government minister, a pattern that could be tied to successful eradication efforts in neighboring countries and the presence of transnational organized crime in this Andean nation.

According to Vice-Minister of Social Defense, Felipe Caceres, Peruvians, Colombians and Venezuelans are involved in coca production in the northwestern community of San Fermin — which sits on the border with Peru, reported La Razon.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Bolivia

Caceres said the community would be the target of eradication efforts this year, but it is extremely difficult to reach because it is 60 miles — or a five-day journey on foot through inhospitable jungle — from the nearest major settlement, Apolo, reported EFE.

According to La Razon, in October 2013, residents of Apolo reported the presence of hundreds of coca growing and drug production operations in San Fermin.

Caceres said he was hopeful the Ministry of Defense would this year provide two promised Super Puma helicopters to aid the country’s eradication efforts, providing easier access to communities such as San Fermin, reported La Razon.

Bolivia does not permit aerial fumigation. 

InSight Crime Analysis

Coca eradication has been highly controversial in Bolivia, with violent clashes last year between coca growers and government forces attempting to enforce a legal coca crop limit.  In May 2013, Caceres linked the violence in the Apolo region to Peruvian drug traffickers. And these latest findings hint at something more sinister than small farmers who are simply trying to eek out a living.

In October 2013, Peruvian criminals were linked to the murders of a police officer and a soldier in the same area — the first killings of officials engaged in coca eradication registered in Bolivia. And the presence of drug production operations in border communities has been noted regularly in recent years, with an entire village dedicated to cocaine production destroyed near the border with Chile in September 2013. In mid-2012, more than 90 cocaine laboratories were destroyed in eastern Bolivia, near the border with Brazil. 

The violence against security forces, coupled with the high numbers of labs destroyed, suggest there may be larger groups behind some of these migrations. Criminal groups in Colombia have, for example, relocated entire communities dedicated to growing coca. 

That border communities such as San Fermin are hard to reach for Bolivian authorities may have also helped draw Peruvian coca growers there, especially in the face of extensive interdiction operations in Peru that are set to escalate further this year.

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