Bolivia Seizes ‘2 Tons of Uranium’ in Downtown La Paz

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Bolivian officials walked back initial claims that two tons of radioactive uranium were seized in La Paz, saying the find contains only traces of the substance; but the discovery renews earlier questions about Bolivia’s relationship with Iran and speculations of Hezbollah influence in the area.

On August 28, Deputy Interior Minister Jorge Perez said police uncovered two tons of uranium in a garage in an upscale neighborhood near the Brazilian, British, and United States embassies. He called the minerals “radioactive” and said they were “used for building nuclear weapons,” according to El Tiempo newspaper.

Interior Minister Carlos Romero clarified Perez’s claims at a press conference later that day, saying the material contained only unconcentrated uranium. The rocks had been moved to the outskirts of La Paz and would be examined by Bolivia’s geological survey and the independent Institute for Nuclear Medicine, Romero said.

Police arrested four Bolivian nationals as they transferred the material in jute and nylon sacks between vehicles–the result of a six-week investigation, Spanish news agency EFE reported.

Officials would not say what groups were behind the alleged uranium transaction, but said the substance likely originate in Brazil or Chile.

InSight Crime Analysis

Bolivia’s southwestern Andean region has large reserves of high-grade uranium on a scale comparable to those found in Canada and Australia. This has led to speculation that Bolivia could begin supplying the raw mineral to countries with nuclear plants. In 2009 the Israeli government even claimed that the South American country had begun to supply uranium to Iran for its nuclear program.

The two countries did in fact sign a bilateral treaty in 2010 amounting to $1.2 billion in joint ventures, including mineral projects. Additionally, in June Bolivian President Evo Morales met with his Iranian counterpart to sign a new treaty in which Iran agreed to help Bolivia in its fight against drugs by providing military intelligence training and communications equipment.

Though there is evidence to suggest that Bolivia has begun extracting uranium, government officials have denied claims they are supplying the raw materials for nuclear weapons to Iran. But some analysts worry that Iran’s close ties to Latin American countries like Venezuela, Nicaragua, and now Bolivia, may have paved the way for Hezbollah influence in the area.

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