Bolivia’s Narco State Now Out in the Open
EspañolOne year ago, in October 2013, I wrote “Bolivia, the Narco-Trafficker’s Paradise,” published in El Deber and El Dia. My article concluded that “the Bolivian government is still working hard to realize the ‘process of change’ project, which is headed, I believe, towards the creation of a true ‘narco state,’ marked by a complete loss of moral values as well as human rights and freedom.”
One year following this publication, we can see that the Bolivian narco state has gained momentum domestically while also strengthening its image on the international stage. Countries such as the United States and Brazil have already strongly denounced illicit drug trafficking in Bolivia, including Brazil’s recently defeated presidential candidate Aécio Neves. He proposed a review of relations between the two nations, as well as tighter control of the border.
Coca-leaf cultivation is increasing significantly throughout the country, despite it being well known by Bolivians that the only coca leaves used for traditional purposes are grown in the Los Yungas zone. All other coca-leaf cultivation goes directly to the production of cocaine.
Recently, a 1,000-hectare coca-leaf plantation was discovered within the confines of Isiboro Sécure National Park, colloquially known as TIPNIS. This park has been a headache for Bolivian President Evo Morales since he proposed the construction of a highway that would cut through the middle, connecting the departments of Cochabamba and Beni with the adjacent Brazilian border.
Despite this being the objective of the project — at least according to Morales — public opinion is that the highway will be used to facilitate drug trafficking, while the narcos employ the park’s fertile soil for increased coca-leaf cultivation.
Some years ago, the park even became the venue for a severe attack against the physical integrity of Bolivians. In 2011, the ones to suffer were indigenous people, opposed to a road in the park, who had once supported Evo Morales’ “process of change.”
Aside from the dubious motives of the highway, what were suspicions last year regarding Bolivia’s role as an illicit-drug producer and trafficker have since grown into facts supported by both domestic and international reports. On the home front, many tons of cocaine are seized on a weekly basis, and while the government takes pride in claiming anti-drug intelligence, the seizures only indicate that the production of drugs in Bolivia is growing every day.
At the same time, news stories have emerged confirming the significant presence of international gangs in Bolivia, including the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel. Bolivia has also welcomed a strong Iranian presence, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. In an article entitled “Bolivia’s Descent Into Rogue State Status,” the US newspaper points out that Iranians now use Bolivia to produce and transport drugs to Europe, passing through Africa on the way. According to the investigation, the Iranian embassy in Bolivia employs 145 officials, a head-scratcher given the minimal formal economic relations between the two nations.
Whether the Journal claims are true or not, something very palpable is going on in Bolivia’s streets: civilian insecurity, drug dealing among youth, including high school students, the kidnapping of the children of businessmen, and the presence of cartels — all realities that besiege the lives and integrity of Bolivians. Moreover, the government has thus far failed to account for these tangible afflictions through their “process of change” initiative, which will now spill over over into a new presidential term.
The next five years of MAS governance will be decisive, although a possible presidential change in Argentina could complicate the current drug-trafficking system. Morales’ officials may also impose closures and strict border controls, to appear like they are doing something. However, that will merely impede wealth from flowing into the Bolivian economy, and provide less liquidity to the economic bubble that has camouflaged high inflation and sustained Bolivia’s populist waste for almost a decade.
Translated by Peter Sacco. Edited by Fergus Hodgson.