LA PAZ – Police found a new “megalaboratory” with the capacity to process 1.5 tons of cocaine a month in a jungle area in Bolivia’s eastern province of Santa Cruz and arrested two suspects, the official ABI news agency reported Thursday.
The lab, the second-largest facility of its kind dismantled this year, was found on Wednesday, FELCN drug enforcement agency director Col. Oscar Nina told the news agency.
The laboratory was worth about $1 million, “considering the sophisticated crystallization equipment for base paste, along with some 12 tons of chemical precursors” that were found at the site, Nina told ABI.
“They had enough chemicals to process more than 1,500 kilos (1.6 tons) of cocaine in a period of 30 days,” the colonel said.
The lab was in Santa Rosa, a town some 100 kilometers (62 miles) south of the provincial capital, Santa Cruz.
Since January, Bolivian authorities have seized 10 tons of cocaine and 1,340 tons of marijuana, the government says.
In 2008, Bolivia seized 25 tons of cocaine and more than 1,135 tons of marijuana, and it eradicated more than 5,000 hectares (12,345 acres) of coca, which provides the raw material for cocaine.
The U.S. State Department’s annual report on drugs estimates that Bolivia’s cocaine production rose from 100 tons in 2003 to 120 tons in 2008.
Bolivian law permits the cultivation of 12,000 hectares (29,629 acres) of coca 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 (66,667 acres) planted with coca, making it the third-largest producer after Colombia and Peru.
Bolivian President Evo 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.
In March, the Bolivian government started the formal process of removing coca leaf from the list of substances banned under the 1961 U.N. anti-narcotics convention.
Bolivia is trying to modify two subsections of Article 49 of the 1961 U.N. convention on drugs that prohibit the chewing of coca leaf. EFE