A flight to Madrid with half a ton of cocaine uncovers a network of complicity between the State and drug trafficking in Bolivia | International

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An official of the Madrid Customs and Excise Administration, during the inspection of the seized drugs at the Barajas airport.Tax Agency (Tax Agency/EFE)

The Government of Bolivia has recognized this Tuesday that drug trafficking "has permeated" officials of the police, customs, airports and the state airline, Boliviana de Aviación (BoA). In the last week, it became known that members of these institutions allowed 484 kilos of cocaine to be transported to Madrid on a commercial flight on February 12 and, subsequently, prevented the fact from being detected by internal security mechanisms. It is assumed that the one who benefited from this network of complicity within the State was an international organization of drug traffickers with tentacles in Bolivia and Spain.

This Tuesday, the three ministers responsible for the state departments involved in the "drug flight" plot appeared before the press to try to contain the wave of criticism that had erupted days before. The country had been talking for almost a week about a BoA flight last February in which half a ton of drugs had been found. The aircraft of the country's largest commercial airline was parked at Madrid's Adolfo Suárez airport. Two former presidents who lead the opposition from opposite paths, Evo Morales and Carlos Mesa, accused the Government of Luis Arce for the case. "The protection of drug trafficking" of Arce's ministers is definitively verified, tweeted Morales, who promoted Arce to the presidency and whom he now accuses of leading the "internal right" of his party. Mesa requested the intervention of the entities involved: "The enormous shipment of cocaine transported in BOA shows the penetration of drug trafficking in governments [del Movimiento al Socialismo, el partido de Morales y Arce]and institutional and political complicity”, he wrote.

President Arce had also made his concern known and ordered a complete clarification of the case. His ministers summoned the press and announced the suspension of a BoA official and another from the Viru Viru airport, located in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, where the drug shipment came from, as well as the rotation of all police officers assigned to this airport. According to the ministers, the prosecution would receive all the information it requires. However, it was already known that part of the images from the airport cameras had been deleted some time before to prevent the investigation.

In the images that were obtained, two BoA stevedores are seen breaking the police seal of the container in which the cargo that had to be loaded onto the plane was stored and introducing the twelve boxes in which the drugs were stored. These boxes were added to four others that contained clothes and had been sent by a courier company. According to the cargo manifest, the weight of this shipment should have been just over 100 kilos, but BoA admitted without comment that it was almost 500 kilos overweight. The stevedores and the owners of the courier company responsible for the shipment, who have a history of drug trafficking, were arrested.

It all started when the Spanish authorities, who were carrying out an operation to detect irregular behavior by employees at the Barajas airport, found the drug in hold 23L of a Wamos Airbus, which had operated BOA flight OB776 and arrived on the 12th. from February to Madrid. According to a report obtained by the Bolivian newspaper DutyFour days later, they requested information from the Bolivian police, without explicitly stating that it was an investigation for drug trafficking. The police unit that coordinates the security of the Viru Viru airport was activated, which requested the security images from those responsible for the airport, but they delivered videos that were useless for the investigation. A day later, due to a new Spanish request, the Viru Viru police requested images, this time, from BoA, only to discover that those from the moment the plane was loaded had been deleted. The same thing happened with the images from the customs cameras, which were destroyed much later, on May 31, when the Bolivian public had just learned of the drug seizure at the Madrid airport.

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The airport police did not do anything further to investigate the case, presumably because they did not know that it involved drug smuggling. There is controversy over why drug chiefs did not act before the find of the stash was made public. The policeman in charge of the security of Viru Viru on the day of shipment was arrested. The Minister of Government (Interior), Eduardo del Castillo, promised that there will be many more arrests.

Press reports that have not been officially confirmed suggest that behind this case is a criminal organization with scope in Bolivia and Spain, supposedly led by a Bolivian drug trafficker nicknamed "Colla." They also maintain that the "narco flight" would have been preceded and followed by other similar operations, also covered by the same network of employees of the Bolivian institutions.

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