Security checkpoint: Bolivia Minister of Internal Affairs Jorge Pérez (right) cut the ribbon to open a new security checkpoint on December 5 in the village of Villazón, in the Potosí region. The new facility will help law enforcement authorities detect drug traffickers and other criminals. [Photo: Courtesy Ministry of Internal Affairs]
Security checkpoint: Bolivia Minister of Internal Affairs Jorge Pérez (right) cut the ribbon to open a new security checkpoint on December 5 in the village of Villazón, in the Potosí region. The new facility will help law enforcement authorities detect drug traffickers and other criminals. [Photo: Courtesy Ministry of Internal Affairs]
QCOSTARICA (Dialogo-Americas) Bolivia recently opened new checkpoint facilities in the village of Villazón, located close to the border with Argentina in the department of Potosí. It is expected that the new checkpoint will improve security along the common border.

The opening of the facility is part of a project called “Strengthening Comprehensive Border Controls against Illicit Drug Trafficking and Related Crimes,” developed by the National Council on the Fight against Illicit Drugs Trafficking (CONALTID) and the Directorate General of Migration (DIGEMIG) as part of a bigger plan to consolidate the state’s presence in border towns and combat criminal activities.

The checkpoint received new computers and scanners to register migrants, a virtual, private network with DIGEMIG, and a computer system for border management.

“We must strengthen our efforts in the fight against drug trafficking in a comprehensive fashion at our border checkpoints, involving all state agencies,” said Sabino Mendoza, CONALTID coordinator general, according to EFE . “[The goal is] to have a greater presence and reduce the negative impact from drug traffic coming from neighboring countries.”

Modernization of checkpoints

The opening of the Villazón checkpoint is part of the Bolivian government’s plan to modernize security checkpoints along the borders it shares with Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, Chile and Peru. As part of this effort, on August 22, 2014, Bolivian Minister of Internal Affairs Jorge Pérez Valenzuela initiated construction at the Puerto Suárez checkpoint along the border with Brazil.

“The improvements to infrastructure along the borders will allow us to increase migration controls and, consequently, identify those who have criminal records for drug trafficking,” the Ministry of Internal Affairs reported December 10. “Authorities will verify migration status and will compare biometrics from a current photograph with a previous image [of the traveler], in addition to comparisons with documents in our database.”

Bolivia is the world’s third-largest producer of coca leaf, according to the Coca Crop Monitoring Report 2013 , published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in June 2014. Therefore, authorities and security analysts have stressed the need to reinforce all of Bolivia’s borders.

The Drug Belt

The upgrading of security checkpoints will disrupt the activities of drug traffickers and other criminals.

“In general, all of these border control efforts bode well for strengthening the state’s sovereignty where its presence has been most difficult to establish,” said Argentine security analyst Norberto Emmerich, who specializes in drug trafficking matters.

Villazón sits across a river from the Argentine city of La Quiaca, in the province of Jujuy, making it one of five key points in the geopolitics of drug trafficking on the northern Argentine border, according to Emmerich. He calls this region the “Drug Belt with Five Routes”, which include:

:: El Condado – La Mamora (Salta) route
:: Aguas Blancas – Bermejo (Salta) route
:: Salvador Mazza – Yacuiba (Salta) route
:: Puerto Chalanas (Salta) route
:: La Quiaca – Villazón (Jujuy) route

The importance of international cooperation

Law enforcement authorities in the border regions are fighting micro-smuggling ( bagayeo ) which is conducted by small criminal groups and individuals.

Some of them use small aircraft to transport drugs from Bolivia to clandestine airstrips in Argentina, according to Emmerich, so interational cooperation is crucial in fighting such activities. “It would be best for this type of border control along an extensive, porous and topographically difficult border to be performed in a cooperative manner, sharing resources, policies and information.”

In 2014, Bolivian security forces dismantled 85 clandestine laboratories that manufactured cocaine and seized 27 planes that had been used to traffic drugs, according to official information broadcast on Bolivian television network ATB.

Besides drug trafficking, trafficking in persons is a high-incidence criminal activity along the border region between the two South American countries.

“The difference is that drug trafficking is a threat that comes from Argentina and goes to Bolivia, while trafficking in persons for labor and sexual exploitation is a crime that comes from Bolivia and goes to Argentina,” Emmerich said.