We're always looking for ways to make better. Have an idea? See something that needs fixing? Let us know!

Bolivia: Narcotics Corruption
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > Threats to Internal Security > Narcotics Trafficking > Narcotics Corruption


Drug-related corruption reportedly began to take a firm hold within Bolivia's military and security services under General Banzer's rule (1971-78). The García Meza regime (1980-81), however, was one of Bolivia's most flagrant examples of narcotics corruption. García Meza's so-called cocaine coup was itself generally believed to have been financed by the cocaine "mafia," which bribed certain military officers. García Meza reportedly ruled with an "inner cabinet" of leading civilians and military officers involved in the cocaine trade. Two of his ministers -- Colonel Ariel Coca and Colonel Luis Arce Gómez -- were well-known "godfathers" of the industry. By 1982 approximately 4,500 prosecutions were under way in connection with the embezzlement of state funds by civil servants, said to amount to a total of US$100 million.

In early 1986, Congress charged García Meza and fifty-five of his former colleagues with sedition, armed uprising, treason, genocide, murder, torture, fraud against the state, drug trafficking, crimes against the Constitution, and other crimes. In April 1986, however, the Supreme Court of Justice suspended the first hearing in García Meza's murder trial, after his defense demanded the removal of three judges whom it charged had participated in García Meza's military government. The Supreme Court of Justice subsequently voted to remove its president and two other justices from the trial. After García Meza escaped from custody (he had been living under house arrest in Sucre) and reportedly fled the country in early 1989, the Supreme Court of Justice vowed to try him and two accomplices in absentia. Governmental and military/police corruption under the Paz Estenssoro government (1985-89) was less flagrant than in the 1980-82 period of military rule. Nevertheless, it reportedly remained widespread.

In December 1988, Bolivia's foreign minister asserted that narcotics traffickers were attempting to corrupt the political process. Bolivians were outraged, for example, by secretly taped "narcovideos" made in 1985 by Roberto Suárez Gómez (known as the "King of Cocaine" in Bolivia until the mid-1980s) and aired on national television in May 1988. The tapes, provided by a former naval captain cashiered for alleged corruption, showed two prominent politicians from Banzer's Nationalist Democratic Action (Acción Democrática Nacionalista -- ADN) and military figures fraternizing with Suárez.

The Umopar in particular had earned a reputation for corruption, especially in the Chapare region. In 1987, according to Department of State and congressional staff, drug traffickers were offering Umopar officers and town officials in the Chapare region amounts ranging from US$15,000 to US$25,000 for seventytwo hours of "protection" in order to allow aircraft to load and take off from clandestine airstrips. In February 1988, the deputy minister of national defense announced that about 90 percent of Umopar members, including twelve middle- and high-ranking officers, had been dismissed for alleged links to drug trafficking. The La Paz newspaper Presencia reported in March 1988 that Umopar chiefs, including the prosecutors, were working with narcotics traffickers by returning to them the large drug finds and turning only the small ones in to the authorities. Observers considered Umopar forces in Santa Cruz to be more honest and dedicated.

In October 1988, the undersecretary of the Social Defense Secretariat reiterated that drug traffickers had obtained the protection of important sectors of influence in Bolivia, including some military members and ordinary judges. He cited the example of Cochabamba's Seventh Division commander and four of his top officers, who were discharged dishonorably after they were found to be protecting a clandestine Chapare airstrip used by drug smugglers. The ministry official also announced that the navy was protecting drug-trafficking activities in the Puerto Villarroel area of the Chapare. For that reason, the United States suspended assistance to the navy temporarily in late 1988 until its commander was replaced. In December 1989, Bolivia's antidrug police captured no less a drug trafficker than Arce Gómez, who was subsequently extradited to the United States.

Data as of December 1989

Last Updated: December 1989

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Bolivia was first published in 1989. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

Bolivia Main Page Country Studies Main Page

Section 158 of 171


Click any image to enlarge.

National Flag

($b) Bolivian Boliviano (BOB)
Convert to Any Currency


Locator Map