LA PAZ – Bolivia’s interior minister and customs chief on Friday presented a cache of 75 military-grade weapons found hidden inside a shipment of agricultural equipment from the United States.
Carlos Romero and the head of the customs service, Marlene Ardaya, displayed the arms at a press conference in the eastern city of Santa Cruz, the shipment’s intended destination.
The consignment comprised 34 long guns – including assault rifles – and 41 handguns manufactured in the US, Russia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania.
Found along with the weapons were $46,000 worth of mobile phones.
Authorities arrested the driver of the delivery truck, the intended recipient of the shipment, and two other people.
The government has not disclosed the names of those in custody.
“We have to find out what was the aim of this importation into Bolivian territory and who are the members of this criminal organization,” Romero told reporters.
The cargo left Port Everglades, Florida, on Nov. 22 aboard a vessel that made stops in the Dominican Republic and Peru before reaching the Chilean port of Arica on Jan. 7, from where it traveled by truck to landlocked Bolivia.
Romero called it noteworthy that the arms were shipped from the US and that the guns went undetected until it reached Bolivia.
The Bolivian customs service was tracking the cargo from the day the ship left the US, according to the government.
Santa Cruz, Bolivia’s wealthiest and most-populous city, is the hub of a movement in favor of the secession of four eastern and southern provinces known collectively as the “half-moon.”
Those regions, which hold 85 percent of the natural gas reserves that represent the impoverished Andean nation’s most valuable resource, are led by a mainly white class of agri-business and energy magnates, while indigenous people are the majority in Bolivia as a whole.