Bolivia to Scan Oil Trucks for Drugs, Following Scandal

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Bolivia is set to begin more intensive inspections of state company oil trucks bound for Argentina, after uncovering a drug trafficking ring involving a transportation contractor. 

Bolivia’s customs agency, anti-drug trafficking agency, and state oil firm YPFB signed an agreement to begin scanning the cargo of oil trucks contracted by YPFB to move product to Argentina, local press reported

The agreement follows a recent scandal involving a transportation contractor, Jose Luis Cejas, who is accused of leading a criminal group that smuggled cocaine and marijuana from Bolivia into Argentina via state-contracted oil trucks. Prior to having his contracts cancelled, Cejas was YPFB’s largest diesel fuel transporter and commanded a fleet of 90 trucks, according to local newspaper Correo del Sur.  

The head of Bolivia’s customs agency said the inspections would involve support from anti-drug police unit the FELCN, which will provide “risk profiles” of likely suspects.  

InSight Crime Analysis

While scanning state-contracted oil trucks is a good step towards combating drug smuggling in Bolivia — an increasingly important drug trafficking hub in South America — implementing the improved inspection process may be hampered by corruption.

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YPFB may be able to claim a degree of distance from the Cejas scandal, as the suspects involved are contracted workers and not direct employees of the state oil firm. Nevertheless, YPFB is no stranger to corruption. Most recently, authorities arrested a group of YPFB workers accused of influence peddling, in December. “There’s corruption within YPFB at all levels,” the group’s alleged leader Selva Camacho was quoted as saying, adding that even YPFB president Carlos Villegas was involved in wrongdoing.    

Meanwhile, the head of Bolivia’s deputy ministry of social defense and controlled substances, Felipe Carceres, recently denounced organized crime’s alleged infiltration of FELCN, during a press conference. According to Carceres, FELCN agents have been passing information to drug traffickers, allowing them to avoid arrests and police operations. Disciplinary actions are proceeding against more than 60 FELCN agents, with 15 already in jail. All this casts doubt on the FELCN’s proposed role in the oil truck inspection process. 

Cejas and his drug trafficking ring may be a case of bad apples among YPFB contractors. However, if the state oil company does not subject their contractors to greater scrutiny, then Cejas may not be the only alleged drug trafficker taking advantage of YPFB transport routes.  

It is also troubling that state-contracted oil trucks were not subject to cargo scanning procedures in the first place. While Bolivia is making efforts to address the reality of its growing importance in South America’s drug trade, the government often appears a few steps behind organized crime. 

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