Reports began trickling out of Bolivia on Sunday of a major counternarcotics operation in Chiquitania, an area in the eastern province of Santa Cruz. Officials now say that the raid led to the seizure of what may be the biggest cocaine factory ever found in Bolivia—the world’s third largest cocaine producer.
On Monday, Oscar Nina, director of the government’s special anti-narcotics force, called the seizure of the factory, which was capable of producing 100 kilograms per day of highly refined cocaine, “the biggest setback to narcotrafficking to have occurred in recent years.” The factory is the fourth major lab to be discovered in 2009 in Bolivia. As in the other cases this year, a number of Colombian nationals were arrested and were believed to be working in collaboration with local teams.
Alfredo Rada, Bolivia’s minister of government, used coverage of the action to voice his criticism of past U.S. anti-drug actions in the region and pointed out that the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), which had been active in the region, failed to discover the labs. Cocaine production in Bolivia grew in 2008 and the government has come under pressure to control the problem, particularly after receiving heavy criticism for expelling U.S. anti-narcotics officials from the country.