LA PAZ – Bolivian police discovered Friday the biggest cocaine laboratory in a decade and arrested three people, Interior Minister Alfredo Rada said.
From Buenos Aires, where he attended a security meeting, Rada said on La Paz radio stations that, according to information from the police force, the lab was found in the eastern province de Santa Cruz on the Brazilian border.
“This is the hardest blow against drug trafficking not only in the three years of the Evo Morales administration, but at the very least in the last decade,” Rada said.
Rada described it as a laboratory for purifying cocaine with techniques used by Colombian cartels associated with Bolivian drug runners.
He said that the deputy minister of social defense, Felipe Caceres, is currently traveling to the newly discovered lab and will give a detailed report on the find.
Bolivian law permits the cultivation of 12,000 hectares (29,629 acres) of coca – the raw material of cocaine – for legal traditional uses, and a similar arrangement prevails in neighboring Peru.
Unadulterated coca is a mild stimulant that eases hunger pangs and alleviates altitude sickness. It has been used in the Andean region for millennia in cooking, folk remedies and religious rites.
Currently, Bolivia has 27,000 hectares planted with coca, making it the third-largest producer after Colombia and Peru.
Morales, an Aymara Indian who rose to prominence as the leader of a coca-growers union, came to office in January 2006 pledging to redirect anti-drug efforts from coca eradication to cocaine interdiction.
Last November, the U.S. government suspended Bolivia’s participation in a tariff-exemption program for Andean nations, claiming that La Paz was not cooperating sufficiently in the war on drugs.
Morales categorically rejected that assertion and cited U.N. statistics showing his government has done better than U.S. allies Colombia and Peru both in reducing coca cultivation and seizing cocaine. EFE