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Bolivian top anti-drugs intelligence advisor jailed in Miami for narcotics smuggling

Thursday, March 3rd 2011 - 19:02 UTC
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Former general Rene Sanabria, caught red-handed in Panama Former general Rene Sanabria, caught red-handed in Panama

A top Bolivian security official pled not guilty in a Miami federal court Wednesday on charges of conspiring to smuggle cocaine into the U.S., in a scandal that has rocked the government of Evo Morales and provoked a wide-ranging police crackdown.

The scandal broke Friday when U.S. agents and Panamanian police arrested retired-general Rene Sanabria, the former head of Bolivia's main anti-narcotics unit for smuggling up to 144 kilograms of cocaine to the U.S., Bolivian officials said.

Mr. Sanabria, who was serving as a top intelligence adviser to the country's Interior Minister Sacha Llorenti and a close associate of President Morales at the time of his arrest, was deported to Miami.

Sanabria's state-appointed lawyer, Christy O'Connor of the Miami public defender's office, told reporters Tuesday that Mr. Sanabria could face a life sentence if found guilty.

Felipe Caceres who is also Bolivia's top antidrug official said earlier in the week that Sanabria's security unit “was riddled” with corruption. Caceres said that 15 other police officials were in the process of being detained for complicity in the drug-smuggling operation.

Bolivian police have been rounding up Sanabria's subordinates in the Interior Ministry's counter-intelligence section as well as ex-district police chiefs for the capital of La Paz, and the city of Santa Cruz, the country's largest city, both of whom are alleged to be part of Sanabria's smuggling network.

Caceres said Bolivia was cooperating fully in the probe. But he complained the government was never informed about the international arrest warrant issued against Mr. Sanabria.

“We had no information from the State Department or the DEA,” said Mr. Caceres at a news conference Tuesday where he requested Mr. Sanabria be repatriated to face charges in Bolivia.

Sanabria's arrest was the result of a two-year investigation by the US Drug Enforcement Administration and Chilean intelligence, which detected that Bolivian police officials had been shipping drugs to Miami from ports in northern Chile, Arica, since 2009, said Sacha Llorenti, Bolivia's Interior Minister.

Opposition critics have jumped on the scandal to criticize the government for alleged permissive policies on drug trafficking. Mr. Morales expelled the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration from Bolivia in 2008, saying its agents were conspiring against his government during a bloody regional rebellion in eastern Bolivia.

“This is a serious stain on the government,” said opposition Senator Marcelo Antezana, a former army chief of staff, who demanded Mr. Llorenti's resignation. Other opposition leaders said the scandal was the fault of Mr. Morales's expulsion of the DEA three years ago.

“Controls on the police which were exercised by the DEA have disappeared,” said Rene Justiniano, a former antidrug czar turned opposition leader. “Police have lost their fear of getting caught.”

Police internal-affairs units set up under US tutelage were dismantled following Sanabria's appointment to head the antidrug police in 2007, a Bolivian law enforcement officer said.

Bolivian government officials say Sanabria's arrest is U.S. retribution for President Morales’s kicking out the DEA. The US “took Sanabria to the US because the DEA is hurt that we had the sufficient capacity and political will to expel them,” Caceres told a rally of coca growers last Monday.

Interior minister Llorenti denied that Sanabria exercised major intelligence responsibilities in the government, saying his intelligence unit was just one of several Bolivian government security agencies.

Bolivian opposition recalled that this is not the first time an incident of this kind involving close associates to Presdient Morales, has occurred. They mention the case of an indigenous (amauta) religious leader who was a common figure in many government political rallies and in official ceremonies in one of La Paz adjoining city halls who was jailed for leading a drugs ring.

According to Santiago media a team of undercover Chilean intelligence officers sealed a deal with Sanabria for the purchase of drugs that were to be trasported through Arica, in a container, as effectively happened.

Categories: Politics, Brazil.

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  • aedi

    Very convenient, very convenient, TOO convenient !!

    Mar 05th, 2011 - 02:14 am 0
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