Military Cashiers a General, Four Officers For Protecting Cocaine Shipments
LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) _ The armed forces dismissed a general and four other officers for allowing cocaine worth $10 million to be smuggled out of Bolivia, the military high command said Saturday.
The dishonorable discharges came one day after officials announced the discovery and destruction of a jungle cocaine laboratory that produced tens of millions of dollars of drugs.
Former Gen. Gustavo Arrazola and the four officers were accused of protecting a clandestine airstrip in the Chapare coca leaf producing region. The high command said nearly four tons of cocaine paste - worth at least $10 million - were smuggled out of the airstrip.
The identities of the other officers were not immediately available.
The military did not say how long the airstrip was believed to have operated.
Planes took off from the airstrip for the Beni and Santa Cruz regions where labs converted the cocaine paste into cocaine, and the officers were paid to protect the traffickers, the high command says.
No figure was given for the payments.
″President Victor Paz Estenssoro, in learning of these irregularities, ordered an in-depth investigation and the prosecution of officers involved,″ said Gen. Romulo Mercado Garnica, the army commander.
Last week, the government also announced it arrested one judge and was investigating reports that others had received money from traffickers in return for the prisoners’ release from prison.
The impoverished South American country of 6.7 million produces an estimated one third of the cocaine that reaches the United States and Europe.
Police and U.S. drug agents said that the drug lab destroyed Thursday was the biggest ever discovered in Bolivia. Interior Minister Juan Carlos Duran said the lab produced 3.5 tons of pure cocaine a week.
Twelve Bolivian anti-drug police and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents discovered the lab on a helicopter sweep over sparsely populated jungle 400 miles northeast of La Paz, the Interior Ministry said.
The United States has had a DEA and military presence in Bolivia since July 1986 when 175 U.S. troops spent three months assisting Bolivian police in anti-drug operations.
The DEA describes the anti-drug operations in Bolivia as the most effective in South America. In the past year, police said they have destroyed 2,000 cocaine processing pits, 12 cocaine processing labs and captured eight tons of cocaine paste.
At least 35 U.S. military and navy trainers now work with Bolivian police, navy and air force pilots. DEA and Border Patrol agents also assist in anti- drug operations and train the 700-man Leopard police force operating in the Chapare and Beni regions.