A police officer and a soldier have been killed and others taken hostage in an alleged “ambush” by coca growers in northwest Bolivia thought to have ties with Peruvian drug traffickers, suggesting Peruvian criminal presence in the country.
According to Interior Minister Carlos Romero, members of the Joint Task Force (FTC) were ambushed by coca growers in Miraflores, Apolo, near the Peruvian border, during efforts to eradication coca crops, reported La Razon.
Sub-lieutenant Oscar Gironda Porres died after being shot during the attack, and police officer Jhonny Reynaldo Quispe Chura died later of injuries sustained. At least 17 people were injured during the incident, and another eight members of the FTC were taken hostage, reported La Prensa. Four remain missing, according to La Razon. One coca grower said the confrontation started over violence used by the FTC upon entering the area.
According to El Deber, Romero suspects Peruvian drug traffickers were involved in the armed resistance to coca eradication by the coca growers, but gave little explanation as to why.
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Though clashes between coca growers and eradicators in Apolo began in May, this is the first reported case of security forces being killed. The use of firearms in the most recent attacks indicates outside assistance in apparently escalating resistance efforts.
When the coca clashes first began, authorities also claimed Peruvian drug traffickers had instigated the protests, a theory supported by the proximity of the region to Peru and evidence that Peruvian traffickers operate over the border in Bolivia. Bolivian officials have said in the past that much cocaine seized in the country is Peruvian.
One Peruvian drug trafficker told La Republica earlier this year that Peruvian cocaine is worth twice the value in Bolivia, giving Peruvian traffickers a major incentive to work across the border. Brazilian criminals working with Peruvian groups in the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro river valley (VRAEM) region are also believed to traffic Peruvian cocaine through Bolivia because of its lower price.
If true, the presence of Peruvians in the recurring coca clashes would indicate that they are interested in gaining Bolivian product as well. While this seems odd considering the price differential, it could be a response to coca eradication efforts in Peru, and the need — and ability — to shift operations elsewhere.