Mary A. O’Grady writes for The Wall Street Journal:
The Bolivia-Jihadist Axis of Cocaine
Evo Morales denies running a narco state. Mounting evidence suggests otherwise.
By MARY ANASTASIA O’GRADY
Far less reported are credible allegations that a key source of funding for Boko Haram and other Islamic extremists is cocaine, produced and exported by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and other drug-smuggling cartels working in concert with the Bolivian government. This is the same FARC supposedly negotiating a peace agreement with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos—an agreement that would derail its drug-trade gravy train.
Europe’s recreational drug users like cocaine. European and U.K. drug warriors thought they could curb the availability of the white powder by cracking down on South American supply lines. But the cocaine capos have shifted their trans-Atlantic routes to Africa, where weak institutions are no match for transnational organized crime. Numerous press reports have named both Boko Haram and al Qaeda in the Maghreb as key players in the business of smuggling coke across the Mediterranean into Europe.
The State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement noted in November that Colombia is once again the world’s largest exporter of cocaine. But Bolivia may be the more profitable place for cartels like FARC to operate.
That’s suggested by a January 2014 paper by David Spencer, a professor of counterterrorism at the William J. Perry Center at Fort McNair, and Hugo Achá Melgar, a Bolivian journalist who now lives in the U.S. It traces the rise to power of Bolivian President Evo Morales, a former union leader of the country’s coca-growers, or cocaleros.
The paper, which has not yet been published but which I read, tells of how Washington’s coca-eradication agenda was used by Bolivia’s hard left to launch and build the cocalero political movement beginning in the mid-1990s. Mass protests that paralyzed the country were made possible by a mix of underworld wealth and violence. The cocaleros brought down two democratically elected governments in October 2003 and June 2005, and then won the subsequent election in December 2005.
Mr. Morales denies that he runs a narco state. And since he banished the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency from the country in 2008, U.S. intelligence is limited. Yet mounting evidence suggests that cocaine trafficked to Islamic terrorists is now a major source of Bolivia’s export income.
In 2006, when Mr. Morales first took office, the White House Office on National Drug Control Policy estimated coca cultivation in Bolivia at 21,500 hectares. By 2014 its estimate jumped to 35,000—not surprising, as Mr. Morales legalized coca growing on grounds that it is central to Bolivian cultural heritage and used for chewing and tea.
Yet the largest expansion of coca cultivation has been in the Chapare region, which produces a variety unsuitable for chewing. And in “The Republic of Cocaine,” a 2012 article in the Brazilian magazine Veja, journalist Duda Teixeira reported that only one-third of the Bolivian coca crop goes to traditional uses.
The total area planted with coca in Colombia is greater than in Bolivia. But the soil in the Chapare supports a coca variety with a larger leaf that is replenished faster and has a higher content of the active ingredient needed to produce cocaine than what is grown in Colombia.
Mr. Morales’s critics contend that numerous cartels—including Mexican, Brazilian, Colombian and African players—have won concessions from him that allow them to access this crop, set up laboratories to process the leaves, and export the product.
Roger Pinto Molina was a Bolivian senator in 2010 when members of the police and Morales government insiders brought him documents that he says proved that two members of the president’s cabinet had ties to Colombian and Brazilian cartels. In his Veja article, Mr. Teixeira wrote that he had viewed documents, including a report by an intelligence unit of the Bolivian police, linking at least one cabinet member to the cartels. The Bolivian government has denied the allegation in Mr. Teixeira’s article.
Mr. Pinto told me by telephone last week that he brought the evidence to Mr. Morales—and that shortly thereafter the government opened investigations of the senator. He fled to the Brazilian Embassy, where he remained for two years until he managed to escape the country.
Prior to 2006 Bolivian-flagged ships did not operate in conflict zones in the Mediterranean. Under Mr. Morales that’s changed. In September Greece nabbed one that was loaded with 500,000 rounds of ammunition and 5,000 rifles and bound for a Libyan port. In January Turkey seized another off the coast of Libya carrying 13 tons of hashish.
None of this is likely to matter to Mr. Morales’s political career. On Feb. 21 he will hold a referendum on whether he should be entitled to be re-elected twice more. With the country seemingly awash in laundered drug money, the contest is his for the taking.
Write to O’Grady@wsj.com.
I do like this article highlights the fact that the cocaleros trashed democracy in Bolivia, they executed a coup d’é·tat in 2003 and 2005!
This the principal reason why current ochlocracy wants to remain in power.