Bolivia Arrests Amazon-Based Drug Trafficker

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Bolivian authorities have captured an alleged drug trafficker who reportedly ran a narcotics smuggling operation in the border region between Bolivia and Brazil, highlighting the increasing participation of Bolivian traffickers in the transnational drug trade in South America.

On November 18, Bolivian anti-drug police arrested Mauro Vasquez, who authorities called one of Bolivia’s “most wanted and dangerous” drug traffickers, reported EFE news agency. Authorities hope to transfer Vasquez, who was arrested in 2008 but escaped from prison, to a maximum security facility, so that he cannot escape again.

Vasquez reportedly ran a major drug smuggling operation out of Pando, a province in the Bolivian Amazon on the border with Brazil and Peru. According to La Jornada, authorities believe that Vasquez ordered as as many as 20 murders in 2007, and 12 in 2008.

Bolivian authorities also indicated Vasquez’s organization may have ties with Brazilian criminal groups such as the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC) and the Red Command (Comando Vermelho), reported La Razon.

InSight Crime Analysis

According to a Bolivian Interior Ministry report cited by La Razon, Vasquez is the fourth major drug capo captured in Bolivia recently. On November 10, Paraguay’s anti-drug agency (SENAD) arrested Bolivian drug kingpin Marco Antonio Roca Ali, alias “El Presi,” and several other Bolivian nationals during a raid on a sophisticated drug trafficking operation in the province of Canindeyu, along Paraguay’s eastern border with Brazil.

The arrest of Bolivian traffickers operating at the transnational level underscores how the criminal landscape in Bolivia has expanded beyond just coca production. In recent years, many regions in Bolivia, particularly the eastern province of Santa Cruz, have become major drug trafficking hotspots due to their proximity to Brazil, Latin America’s largest market for cocaine, and to Paraguay, a frequent transit point for smugglers.

While Bolivian authorities have repeatedly denied that foreign drug trafficking organizations have a presence in Bolivia beyond cartel “emissaries,” new evidence suggests that foreign cartels have begun “subcontracting” Bolivia’s traditional family-run criminal enterprises to process cocaine and help them ship it abroad.

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