COLOMBIAN traffickers have set their sights on Bolivia: Dozens
of Colombian drug traffickers, some heavily armed, are moving into
remote jungle towns in northern Bolivia to take control of the
local cocaine business, the United States Drug Enforcement
Administration (DEA) says.
Bolivian anti-drug police late last month destroyed what they
describe as the largest cocaine laboratory ever found in the
country, which officials say probably belonged to traffickers based
in the Colombian city of Cali. The laboratory, situated in the
jungle areas of the Beni, Bolivia's subtropical region where most
of the country's cocaine laboratories are found, was capable of
producing five tons of cocaine a week.
DEA officials say that from the evidence of the tire marks left
on the airstrip near the laboratory, small planes known as
Airocommanders probably flew the cocaine up to 1,000 kilometers
(625 miles) into Colombia. The types of arms and the frequencies of
radio transmitters left at the site strongly suggest links with
Cali, drug officials say.
As many as 300 Colombians, most with connections in Cali, are
attempting to fill the void left by the recent surrender of seven
top suspected Bolivian cocaine smugglers, DEA sources say. The
seven took advantage of a government amnesty which granted
traffickers a two-day period to give themselves up in return for
guarantees they would not be extradited. The offer expired in
"Every day the seven stay in custody, they lose that much more
power," says Don Ferrarone, DEA chief in Bolivia. "They left their
people in place, but they are being bypassed by the Colombians."
DEA intelligence sources say Colombian traffickers are fighting
it out like the old Wild West in some remote towns of the Beni.
Whole organizations - including bodyguards, managers, and chemists
- are trying to get laboratories back in action and reestablish air
routes hit by recent anti-drug raids, they say.
In June, a huge DEA-orchestrated anti-drug operation named "Safe
Haven the largest ever of its kind in Bolivia - sought to take over
Santa Ana, the hub of cocaine business in the Beni. "Safe Haven"
failed to capture three of the DEA's targeted traffickers living in
Santa Ana: Erwin Guzman, Hugo Rivero, and Oscar Roca. But the
operation was thought to have prompted the three to turn themselves
Interior Minister Carlos Bruno Saavedra, the architect of the
amnesty, has scored a major political success, analysts say. But he
admits "it is too early to say" whether the surrender of the seven
has made a dent in Bolivia's $400 million a year cocaine trade. …