Bolivia’s ex-drug czar sentenced in US following DEA set-up

A federal judge in Miami on Sept. 23 sentenced Bolivia‘s former top anti-drug official, Gen. Rene Sanabria, to 14 years in prison for cocaine trafficking—although the “Colombian drug lords” he thought he was dealing with were really undercover DEA agents, and the “conspiracy” to smuggle 300 pounds of coke via truck to Chile for export to the US was controlled by the DEA from start to finish. Sanabria’s role in the pseudo-conspiracy was to assure that the shipment would be unmolested. Sanabria was President Evo Morales’ chosen director of the Bolivian Center of Anti-Drug Information since 2009, and before that served as leader of the Special Force for Struggle Against Narco-trafficking (FELCN), an elite unit of the National Police. He was arrested in August 2010 in Panama and extradited to the US.

Transcripts of conversations recorded by the DEA show Sanabria bragging about how he could bring in other Bolivian officials if necessary to protect the DEA-controlled cocaine shipment. “At any time, we can resort to other people at the top,” he is quoted as saying. “I mean, from the command structure to the highest in the institution, or any political group that will allow us to get it done.” Undercover agents eventually wired $250,000 to bank accounts Sanabria controlled in Hong Kong. The “test load” was driven out of Bolivia and hidden in a shipping container along with zinc ore in Chile. It arrived in Miami in November 2010, where it was seized by the DEA.

Another accused conspirator in the case, Sanabria’s business associate Marcelo Foronda, was sentenced to nine years in prison. Foronda’s wife Patricia Illanes was meanwhile arrested by Bolivian authorities, although she was not extradited. (LUSA, Brazil, Sept. 24; San Jose Mercury News, WSJ, BBC News, Sept. 23; Los Tiempos, Cochabamba, Sept. 22; La Prensa, La Paz, Sept. 21; Panama Guide, Feb. 27)

The case is clearly an embarrassment for Morales, who is working hard to overcome US accusations that his regime is complicit with the drug trade. Ironically, the FELCN said that it broke Bolivia’s cocaine confiscation records in 2010, seizing a total of 29 tons. (El Nacional, Tarija, Jan. 4)

The sentencing comes days after the White House censured Venezuelan officials for “narco-terrorist” ties, and listed Bolivia (along with Venezuela and Burma) as three states deemed to have “failed demonstrably” in the fight against drugs.

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