Bolivia Minister: Ex-Police Chief Protected Traffickers
March 5, 2015 -

By CARLOS VALDEZ Associated Press

LA PAZ, Bolivia --- Bolivia's interior minister said Thursday that a retired police general jailed for allegedly enriching himself from the illegal cocaine trade had offered protection to foreign traffickers while in the job.

Gen. Oscar Nina came under suspicion in 2011 when the U.S.-based TV network Univision reported that the son of Mexican drug boss Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman was in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz to seek out local traffickers, Interior Minister Hugo Moldiz said in a radio interview. Santa Cruz is the epicenter of Bolivia's narcotics trade.

Moldiz said Nina also had ties to a Bolivian police lieutenant, Julio Navia, who handled drug-sniffing dogs at the Santa Cruz airport and was arrested in 2010 for taking bribes from traffickers.

Late Wednesday, a judge ordered Nina, a former personal assistant and his son held at Palmasola prison while they are being investigated for illicit enrichment and ties to drug traffickers, prosecutor Ana Luisa Heredia said. The judge also ordered house arrest for Nina's wife and daughter, who are being investigated for the same crimes, Heredia said.

Nina provided favors to foreign drug traffickers and acquired at least $3 million in unsubstantiated holdings, she said.

President Evo Morales, who rose to political prominence as head of a coca-growers' federation, expelled the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration from Bolivia in 2008 for alleged espionage and incitement of the political opposition.

In January 2009, Morales named Nina anti-drug police chief and gave him the job of remaking a force that previously had close ties to DEA.

Nina was promoted to national police commander a year later.

He was retired in 2011, however, two weeks after another former drug czar, Gen. Rene Sanabria, was arrested in Panama on cocaine smuggling charges. Extradited to the United States, Sanabria pleaded guilty to drug trafficking in 2011 and is serving a 14-year sentence.

Bolivia is the world's No. 3 cocaine-producing country and a major transit and processing conduit for Peruvian cocaine. Brazilian, Colombian, Mexican and even Russian traffickers have consolidated operations in the country in recent years, according to international law enforcement officials.

Morales, nevertheless, claims Bolivia's counter-narcotics efforts have improved since he expelled the DEA.