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ASUNCIÓN, Paraguay – It is the largest seizure of drug precursors in the nation’s history.
Special agents from the National Anti-Drug Secretariat confiscated 27,650 liters (7,304 gallons) of sulfuric acid – a chemical used to produce cocaine – divided among 422 plastic drums in an abandoned truck in the town of Pozo Colorado.
The sulfuric acid had a value of US$560,000 and could have produced at least eight tons of cocaine, said Francisco Ayala, SENAD’s director of communications.
The bust in the department of Presidente Hayes, about 278 kilometers (172 miles) from the nation’s capital of Asunción, late last month capped an impressive first five months of the year for SENAD, which also seized 292 kilograms (644 pounds) of cocaine and 1,311 kilograms (2,890 pounds) of crack nationwide.
The previous record for the largest confiscation of precursor chemicals in Paraguay was 4,480 liters (1,183 gallons) of sulfuric acid, found by authorities on Dec. 27 in the city of Mariscal Estigarribia, in the department of Boquerón, 240 kilometers (149 miles) from the Bolivian border.
The busts share a common trait, as officials indicated the precursors were bound for neighboring Bolivia, since the larger shipment was found at a gas station along the Transchaco Highway – the only paved road connecting the two countries. The other shipment was found in two trucks traveling on a rural road toward Bolivia, according to SENAD.
Sulfuric acid is used in two of three steps to make cocaine. In the first step, the chemical turns coca leaves into paste. Next, more sulfuric acid is used to turn the paste into powder cocaine.
Sulfuric acid, which is not illegal when used to make cleaning products, sells for $3,000 Paraguayan guaraníes (US$0.66) per in Paraguay. But there’s a much higher demand for it in Bolivia, where a liter can be sold for as much as $100,000 guaraníes (US$22), Ayala said.
Bolivia is among the world leaders in cocaine production, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
It is unknown who owned the record shipment, but authorities found documents in connection with the seizure that led to raids in the neighborhood of Sajonia in Asunción and the city of San Lorenzo, according to prosecutor Isaac Ferreira of the Attorney General’s Drug Enforcement Unit.
Authorities made an arrest in connection with the record shipment of precursor chemicals, but the suspect’s name is being withheld because the investigations are ongoing.
María Mercedes Castiñeira, SENAD’s chief of operations, said it’s difficult to patrol Paraguay’s border with Bolivia because it’s in the middle of dense jungle.
“SENAD has a Regional Office with special agents in Mariscal Estigarribia in the department of Chaco,” she said. “Every day, we conduct routine random inspections of people, vehicles and shipments that enter and leave the country in this area. Regardless, the border is extensive and vulnerable due to the lack of checkpoints and technical support, such as radars for detecting illegal flights. It’s the ideal route for cocaine entering the country and for exporting raw materials, such as the sulfuric acid headed for Bolivia that we seized.”
But the location of the border hasn’t prevented SENAD from conducting successful counter-narcotics operations.
On May 23, Paraguayans Pedro Salinas Torales and Marina Miranda Ruiz Díaz were arrested at the Mariscal Estigarribia checkpoint after 21.9 kilograms (48.2 pounds) of cocaine was found in their vehicle, which was traveling from Bolivia to Asunción.
“They were charged with narco-trafficking and drug possession and were placed in custody,” Ferreira said.