Luis Arce’s administration refuses to recognize that smuggling exceeded the control and interdiction mechanisms and points to the regulations, because it does not accompany the fight against this illicit activity.
The Vice Ministry for the Fight Against Smuggling identified three illegal ways of introducing products into the national territory, including ant, massive and technical smuggling, the latter being applied by the criminal organization to corrupt state officials and use humble people to move products on border.
Every day, caravans of trucks with illegal merchandise as well as undocumented vehicles of unknown origin are transported to Bolivia through the innumerable illegal border crossings, causing anxiety and affecting, above all, the national economy.
Thus, in recent weeks the fragility of border controls, especially with Chile, was revealed after learning that vehicles stolen from the neighboring nation entered the country via smuggling and were identified as being in the possession of senior police chiefs.
A fact that forced the Government and businessmen to reflect on the need to strengthen the fight against smuggling and also adjust the regulations to accompany the fight against this illegal activity, before it goes beyond the mechanisms of the State.
ACTIONS. For the Vice Minister of Fight Against Smuggling, Daniel Vargas, for now this illicit activity has not exceeded the State, but he recognizes that the tasks to face this scourge in the country are “difficult”.
“In reality, it has not exceeded the presence of the State, all the institutions in charge of the fight against smuggling are at different border points and the report given by the National Customs is important. Records have been broken in relation to 2019 and this year, to date, Bs 217 million have already been seized. We are reaching more than 1,000 undocumented vehicles that have been seized, so the presence of the State is with all its institutions, ”he said in an interview with THE REASON.
The Brigadier General also observed that this crime attracts many Bolivian citizens. “I say it with all sincerity, they are dedicating themselves to smuggling and they have found the easiest way to make money, the easiest way to smuggle through different border points that our country has. One of the disadvantages that we have and the weakness that the State has is having five countries that are around us, a border of more than 7,000 kilometers that makes total control impossible.
The long border between Bolivia and Chile hinders operations to combat smuggling, a situation that is used by those dedicated to illegal activities, as is the case of stolen vehicles in Chile, transported to national territory.
“Our border with Chile is very wide and in some cases it makes it difficult to combat this large number of people who are carrying out (smuggling),” insists Vice Minister Vargas.
The ‘red zone’ for smuggling into Bolivia is located on the border with Chile through which a large number of undocumented and stolen vehicles enter, according to data from the Vice Ministry for the Fight Against Smuggling, an entity that has also identified the entry of these vehicles into across the borders with Brazil and Paraguay.
NORMATIVE Although State entities such as the National Customs and the Vice Ministry for the Fight Against Smuggling make extreme efforts to deal with this illicit activity, the regulations do not provide the necessary sanctions.
“That is a subject of debate, which is being analyzed in the different corresponding instances. We have seen in the previous management that the regulations are not adequate to sanction, “said Vargas.
He added that there is a proposal to reduce the value of the omitted taxes from 200,000 UFV to 10,000 UFV and that from that amount the corresponding criminal actions be initiated against the crime of smuggling.
“It is very likely that in the coming months it will be determined what these sanctions will be like,” the deputy minister anticipated to this medium.
It is expected that this new regulation will be considered by the Legislative Assembly, for which it is coordinated with the Government, Defense and Armed Forces Commission. In principle, it seeks to modify the Law to strengthen the fight against smuggling, as well as the General Customs Law and other regulatory decrees.
“It is an issue that has been raised by different instances of businessmen, who have been seeing this need to articulate this regulation that is in Law 1053, which is also in the process of analysis to be able to analyze if some changes correspond and in this way be more effective in the sanctions that are going to be given to those people who are dedicated to smuggling,” he said.
According to information from the Vice Ministry for the Fight Against Smuggling, this illicit activity is carried out en masse by groups that operate and move across borders in caravans of 10 to 40 trucks, have satellite telephony, state-of-the-art communication and weapons of war. These supplies serve to protect illegal merchandise and communicate with all those who operate and collaborate in this large-scale illicit activity.
Meanwhile, technical smuggling refers to the use of forged Customs documents, insurance documents and customs seals. Smugglers introduce a large number of vehicles into the country with legal documentation, but this is duplicated to camouflage the entry of others, which are presumed to be the result of thefts committed in neighboring countries such as Chile, Brazil or Paraguay.
Finally, ant smuggling is an activity where people from the other side of the border are hired, who enter Bolivia with illicit merchandise carrying it on shoulders, rafts or carts and then fill warehouses with it for illegal trade.
Fighting illicit requires coordination
Private businessmen see the issue of smuggling with “great concern”, because “instead of decreasing it is gaining more strength,” he assured THE REASON the president of the Federation of Private Entrepreneurs of La Paz (FEPLP), Jaime Ascarrunz.
Therefore, “the Government has to take other types of measures, the issue is not easy, because smugglers have more technical ways – if the term is worth it – to carry out their illegal activity and the Government must think of actions to counteract this illegal activity, which is detrimental to the country’s economy,” he said.
Given the increase in smuggling in the country, it is time to make an in-depth analysis of the causes of this illegal activity and what regulations should be modified.
“I don’t think anyone has a formula in hand to say ‘with this suggestion contraband is going to disappear’. I believe that there must be a process that is sustainable over time and concerted (public and private sectors) and logically the sanctions will have to be very harsh so that people are afraid to continue with that activity”, added the businessman from La Paz.
The force of illicit is so great that sometimes it affects those who should fight against smuggling. “This, in our opinion, deserves an in-depth analysis between the private sector and the public sector, to see which measures are the most conducive, without neglecting any; from the analysis of legal regulations to some ideas that discourage smuggling activity and reduce it”.
TRADE. This criterion is shared by the general manager of the National Chamber of Commerce (CNC), Gustavo Jáuregui, who also considered it important to define a “work agenda” to fight against smuggling.
“We also saw that the containment actions carried out against smuggling were timely, but as the National Chamber of Commerce we have ratified a position that we must work in a coordinated manner, between public and private entities, to make a work agenda to fight against smuggling. smuggling that goes beyond containment to preventive work to avoid this illicit activity,” he remarked.
According to data from the CNC, before the coronavirus (2019) it was estimated that smuggling represented around $3 billion annually; however, after two years of the pandemic, the figure increased.
“After the pandemic, we did some studies that determined that smuggling had grown by at least 20%, which means that this illicit activity would be around US$3.6 billion annually, which is moved in this activity; this means that it is around 8% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), it is a very high index”, pointed out the executive.
In the analysis of the CNC, three major items of contraband have been identified in Bolivia, the first is the automotive sector, the famous “chuto” cars; the second major item is that of food and beverages; and the third is that of medicines.