Why Have Bolivia’s Cocaine Seizures Fallen 50% in 2013?

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Bolivia has seized 18.8 tons of cocaine and cocaine paste this year, a drop of nearly 50 percent from 2012’s total that reverses a five-year upward trend, raising the question: what could have caused such a sharp decline?

The Vice Ministry of Social Defense reported that Bolivian authorities seized 17.4 tons of cocaine paste and 1.4 tons of cocaine between January 1 and November 15 this year, reported AFP. In 2012, a total of 36 tons of cocaine product were seized, meaning that with a month left in the year, seizures are down nearly 48 percent.

The country has also eradicated 10,591 hectares of coca in 2013, compared with a total of 11,043 hectares in 2012.

InSight Crime Analysis

The 2013 figures reverse a trend of rising seizures since 2008 — the year the Bolivian government expelled the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from the country. Since then, the US government has claimed Bolivia is not meeting its anti-drug obligations.

There have been two major changes in the world of Bolivian anti-narcotics operations this year that may have impacted seizure numbers. The first, is the replacement of the generally effective chief of Bolivia’s anti-narcotics police (FELCN), Colonel Gonzalo Quezada, and the second, is the closure of the US anti-drug office in Bolivia, bringing to an end US logistical support.

Halfway through 2013, anti-narcotics officials claimed that declining seizures — with under 10 tons of cocaine and cocaine paste seized — showed that increased anti-drug operations had successfully lowered the amount of cocaine entering or produced in the country. However, a recent report that up to four drug flights enter Bolivia each day with Peruvian cocaine, and a statement by Interior Minister Carlos Romero that the country lacks the technology to combat this flow, make this hypothesis questionable.

The fact that the majority of the drug seized was cocaine paste indicates that it was likely destined for the Brazilian and Argentine domestic markets — common destinations for Peruvian product trafficked through Bolivia — where this cheap, unrefined form of cocaine is widely consumed under the names of “paco” and “merla.” 

With the expansion of the use of Bolivia as a stop off point for Peruvian cocaine, it is unclear how much of this paste, or the powder cocaine seized was produced in the country and how much was imported.

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