16 May 2014
Category : Entrevista
Interview with Veimar Rojas, member of the Bolivian Special Force for the Fight against Drug Trafficking (FELCN).
Drug trafficking is a major source of revenue for organized crime. In this context, the cocaine routes, which start in Latin American and end in Europe, persist and extend themselves despite the efforts of the producing, transit and destination countries to reduce them. Controlling the networks that promote the cocaine routes is complex, as is knowing the exact number of tons of cocaine that pass through them and how much money they generate. Latin America and Europe have started working together to combat them under a FIIAPP-led joint programme between the American police community, AMERIPOL, and the European Union: Project AMERIPOL-EU. We spoke about this situation with Veimar Rojas, a member of this Andean nation’s Special Force to Fight Drug Trafficking (FELCN), a participating institution in the programme.
Cocaine interdictions in Bolivia increased between 2002 and 2011. Why did this happen? Is production higher or has there been more action on the part of State and Government security forces?
When we speak of Bolivia, we are talking about the fact that the new Government is taking the fight against drug trafficking to a national level. This has resulted in greater participation by social movements, and this means that the work of the police is being supported by the people themselves. That is to say, the destruction and eradication of coca plants that has been taking place recently is on the upswing because the people are also aware that it is a problem. There has also been an increase in the number of operatives. Now, international cooperation, in this case with the European Union, is also bearing fruit. We know that the fight against drug trafficking is everyone’s job. And this has been demonstrated in joint operations that have been conducted with different countries. Mainly with Spain and Portugal… This demonstrates that alone we can’t achieve much, but together we are getting better results.
How does cocaine get from Bolivia to the European Union?
Mainly through shipments or micro-shipments by means of couriers or parcel services, shipping containers and the use of mules, using what we call in Bolivia tragones (drug swallowers), as well as taped to people’s bodies or carried in false-bottomed suitcases.
Bolivia is also a transit country…
Yes, we have made numerous interdictions in the border area with Peru, where large quantities of Peruvian drugs have been intercepted entering Bolivia en route to Brazil and headed for Europe.
What is the human cost of drug trafficking in Bolivia?
We arrest a large number of people in different circumstances, not only drug mules. Directly from manufacture, transport, storage… Many people who have swallowed the substance have died. Not only Bolivians but also foreigners. We’re talking about Spaniards who have died in the attempt. The human cost is high because the person is risking his or her safety and life.
And due to confrontations between drug traffickers and police interventions?
There have been confrontations and deaths of both police forces and drug traffickers. The figures are not high, but they are significant. Human life has no price. The level of violence is not high. These are situations that have arisen when the drug trafficker fought against police intervention.
Is there a drug trafficking culture in Bolivia?
While the modus vivendi of the drug trafficker may take root in some families—because we’re talking mainly about family clans here—this is not a normal thing in the culture. Society rejects it. It’s not well regarded. The drug trafficker knows this. The person who works in this sporadically can make it a way of life because when someone enters this world, it’s very hard to leave it. It’s not a question of “I’ll do this for a couple of years and then get out”. There is a dynamic that makes this person continue because he or she cannot be allowed to leave with so much information.
Is drug trafficking in Bolivia becoming stronger as in other Latin American countries?
The phenomenon of drug trafficking is global, and we can’t stigmatize the point of origin. We are demonstrating that Bolivia is meeting its commitments in the fight against drug trafficking. We need the support and participation of regional stakeholders and those of other places. This is not a simple crime. Cooperation is always a good thing. And even more so if we’re talking about institutions as important as those of the European Union.
There is no supply without demand… Why is consumption increasing in Europe?
It’s a public health issue. The consumer is sick. It’s something that has to be attacked comprehensively. It all starts with this person’s need to consume something. So we have to address the issue of demand. The authorities have to take this into account to prevent people from entering a cycle of consuming substances.
It’s also important for governments to take measures… What is the situation in Bolivia?
Bolivia has a strategic plan for fighting drug trafficking which is based on three pillars: fighting against the supply and against the demand, and the issue of coca leaf in its cultural and medicinal dimension, of not stigmatizing it as if it were a drug. Work is being done on prevention to address consumption, and also rehabilitation. The Special Force to Fight Drug Trafficking, which is under the Bolivian police, carries out anti-drug operations every day in different parts of Bolivia, in both urban and rural areas, in airports and inland terminals. The aim is to demonstrate to the international community that this nationwide fight against drug trafficking is bringing results.
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