LA PAZ, Bolivia –The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and other narco-trafficking organizations are operating in Bolivia, according to the government.
Col. José Quezada Camacho, the chief of Bolivia’s Special Anti-Narcotics Force (FELCN), said earlier this month members of his unit raided a large-scale cocaine production laboratory allegedly operated by the FARC in the Isiboro Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park (TIPNIS), in the center of the country. The laboratory was equipped with state-of-the-art technology to produce narcotics in huge quantities.
Wilmar Toro García, the chemist who allegedly oversaw the laboratory, was arrested and his compatriot, Yeison David Sosa Rincón, died during the raid, according to Bolivian authorities. Both are listed as FARC members in Colombian National Police reports, Col. Quezada said.
“[The FARC] is introducing modern methods,” he said at the annual closing ceremony for the country’s coca eradication effort on Dec. 17.
Isabelino Gómez, the lead counter-narcotics prosecutor in the department of Santa Cruz, said last month his team and police “do not have the necessary resources, given that the gangs operating in Bolivia have technology that exceeds the capacity of the agencies that are supposed to deal with them.”
Bolivian President Evo Morales said he’s aware his law enforcement agencies are using outdated technology.
“I take this opportunity to ask the ambassador of the European Union, all the ambassadors, international organizations such as the United Nations and other institutions: I want them to participate in this effort the national government is making by supplying us with technology,” he said at the Dec. 17 event.
Morales specifically requested communication equipment, radar systems and helicopters so his agents have better access to remote locations.
FARC not only criminal organization in Andean nation
The FARC is not the only international terrorist organization operating in Bolivia.
Peruvian, Brazilian, Mexican and Paraguayan cartels have also established operations centers in Bolivia, primarily in the western department of Santa Cruz, according to the Public Prosecutor’s Office.
Saúl Lara, former Bolivian government minister who now works as an analyst on narco-trafficking issues, said the presence of international criminal organizations in Bolivia has had an “unquestionable” impact on public safety.
“At this point, you can’t hide the fact that the growing violence in the country, with kidnappings, acts of revenge and shootouts in broad daylight, is the result of the presence of these types of organizations,” Lara said.
In the first 11 months of 2011, 3,582 suspects – 3,195 Bolivians and 387 foreigners – were arrested on drug-related charges, according to the Vice Ministry for Social Defense and Controlled Substances, an entity within the Bolivian government that oversees the fight against narcotics.
Nationals of 45 countries are being held in Bolivian correctional facilities on narcotics charges, with the majority hailing from Peru (89), followed by Colombia (67), Brazil (54) and Spain (35), according to the government.
Among the foreigners detained are alleged members of Colombia’s Norte del Valle del Cauca drug cartel and the Brazil-based Comando Vermelho and Primeiro Comando da Capital criminal organizations.
Bolivian security forces have had success this year in their narcotics fight, as 382 tons of marijuana and 31 tons of cocaine were seized nationwide during the first 11 months of year.
During this time, 11,140 anti-narcotics operations were carried out, in which authorities destroyed 21 narcotics laboratories, 4,894 cocaine paste production units and 6,224 maceration pits.
Neighboring nations are enhancing border protection to avoid penetration of cartels operating in Bolivia into their territory, particularly through illegal flights.
The Argentine Congress is considering a law, similar to one that exists in Brazil, authorizing the shooting down of any aircraft that fails to identify itself. The Argentine government installed a radar system on the border with Bolivia to identify illegal flights.
Brazilian officials also are concerned.
“Much of the trafficking and smuggling is being done through illegal flights,” said Celso Amorim, the country’s minister of defense, during a visit to Bolivia on Oct. 31.
Brazil has deployed 6,500 troops to the borders it shares with Peru, Paraguay and Bolivia to curtail the flow of drugs, Amorim added.
Bolivia and Brazil share a 3,423-kilometer (2,126-mile) border.
“[Narco-traffickers] are always looking for new routes,” he said. “If there’s pressure from one side, they go to the other. That’s why we need to increase our surveillance. I can say this for Brazil, watching over our borders is a priority for President Dilma Rousseff.”