LA PAZ – Bolivian police dismantled nearly 250 cocaine laboratories in recent days in the eastern province of Santa Cruz, the FELCN drug enforcement agency said.
The operation was carried out in the hamlets of San German, Nuevo Horizonte, Kilometro 35 and Kilometro 40, located in the western portion of the province, the agency said in a statement.
On Thursday, authorities destroyed 91 laboratories in San German, a hamlet 154 kilometers (95 miles) northwest of the city of Santa Cruz, the provincial capital, while on Friday 158 others were dismantled in the other three villages, the statement said.
Authorities seized 30 kilos (66 pounds) of drugs; 25 vehicles; more than 10,000 liters (2,640 gallons) of gasoline, bicarbonate and sulfuric acid; bags of coca leaves, the source of cocaine; and two homes.
Drug enforcement agents on Wednesday destroyed a clandestine runway that drug traffickers were likely using to send up to 300 kilos of drugs every 20 days to Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay.
Authorities also arrested 18 people, 13 of whom have since been released due to lack of evidence of ties to drug trafficking, local media reported.
The area where the labs were destroyed borders the central region of Chapare, the Andean nation’s main coca-producing region.
Bolivia is the world’s third largest producer of coca and cocaine after Colombia and Peru and the largest supplier of these drugs to Brazil, Argentina, Chile and other Southern Cone countries, the United Nations says.
The representative in Bolivia of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Peru’s Cesar Guedes, on Friday hailed the police operation in Santa Cruz and urged authorities “not to rest on their laurels” and allow a resurgence of drug trafficking in that region.
“The problem hasn’t gone away because a large amount of laboratories was destroyed in one place ... The important thing is to have the direct intervention, but also to follow up on it to prevent this from continuing,” he said.
Bolivia, like neighboring Peru, allows cultivation of coca in limited amounts for legal uses in cooking, folk medicine and Andean religious rites.
Bolivian President Evo Morales, who came to prominence as the leader of coca growers in Chapare, has largely moved away from forced eradication of coca while stepping up efforts against drug traffickers, with record seizures of cocaine.
He has also sought to promote additional legal applications for coca, which in its unadulterated form is a mild stimulant comparable to caffeine.