Authorities are investigating whether Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman and his son were at some point present in Bolivia, which may clear up the mixed messages regarding what role Mexican traffickers play in the Andean country.
The anti-drugs prosecutor for Santa Cruz, Bolivia, has opened an official investigation into El Chapo’s activities in the country. A document from the Anti-Crime Task Force (FELCN) links at least forty people to the Mexican kingpin, among them senior police officials, attorneys, and businessmen, reported Bolivian news agency El Deber. A former FELCN director reportedly knew of these links, but did not act on that information.
In September 2011, Univision aired an investigation alleging that El Chapo had been in Bolivia, just as Bolivia’s former top drug czar, General Rene Sanabria, was sentenced to prison by a Miami court.
US, Colombia, and Mexico intelligence sources reportedly said Guzman has been in Bolivia, and that his son has allegedly taken flying lessons at the El Trompillo airport in Santa Cruz.
InSight Crime Analysis
Reports of El Chapo’s involvement in Bolivia are nothing new. The 2011 Univision report cited government documents saying the Sinaloa leader was taking advantage of Bolivia’s atmosphere of corruption.
While the exact details of El Chapo’s alleged presence are unclear, there is plenty of evidence pointing to ties between top Bolivian police and miltary officials and the drug trade. Sanabria is the most glaring example: last year he was sentenced to 15 years in a US prison for running a cocaine trafficking ring linked to Guzman. For his part, Sanabria alleged the Bolivian government protects officials accused of drug trafficking.
While transnational organized crime has traditionally kept a lower profile in Bolivia than in countries like Mexico and Colombia, foreign groups are known to operate there, especially in Santa Cruz. One Colombian intelligence estimate put 3,000 traffickers from that country in the Santa Cruz area alone. Given El Chapo’s strong ties to Colombia, he may well have ties to Santa Cruz as well.
Despite these reports, in December 2011 the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) representative in Bolivia heavily downplayed the presence of Mexican drug trafficking organizations in Bolivia, although he did not issue an outright denial. The new Santa Cruz-based investigation may yet clear up the contradictions surrounding the stories of El Chapo in Bolivia.