The arrest of Oscar Niña, Bolivia’s drug police chief points to links with the Mexican Sinaloa cartel


The premise of the Cocaine Route Programme, that international law enforcement need to work more closely together to keep apace of organised crime groups, was validated yet again by events in Bolivia. Last month, Óscar Niña, the anti-drug police chief was arrested together with his son for alleged offences of illicit profiteering, money laundering, and ties with narco-trafficking rings. Nina had been appointed in 2008, the year that the Bolivian president expelled the US Drug Enforcement Agency. Two years later he became national police commander, only to retire in 2011 after his predecessor – the involving top anti-drug official General René Sanabria was arrested on drug trafficking charges.

Now it appears that Niña, according to the US television network Univision and his accomplices were involved with the leader of the Sinaloa cartel, Joaquin Archivaldo Guzman Loera , known as “Chapo” (Shorty). It appears that Niña facilitated Guzman’s movement and possible operation when he visited Bolivia. Guzman was a founder and leader of the Sinaloa cartel, also known as “Alianza de Sangre”. Until his arrest last year, he was in the top ten of the FBI’s most wanted lists.

The presence of Mexican and Colombian drug cartels in other coca producing and transit countries is a topic of increasing concern to policy makers and law enforcement agencies across the region. It also underlines the importance of regional law enforcement cooperation projects and communication tools such as the Sistema de Intercambio de Información Policial (SIPA) that has been provided by the AMERIPOL-EU project. The arrest also demonstrates the determination of the Bolivian government to come down on corrupt officials, however senior the rank. But it also shows clearly the difficulties of enforcing drug control when the amounts of money involved are so large and the demand remains high.