A confidential informant says the DEA had its sights set on Bolivia's populist leader.
Ryan Grim & Nick Wing
The United States has secretly indicted top officials connected to the government of Bolivian President Evo Morales for their alleged involvement in a cocaine trafficking scheme. The indictments, secured in a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration sting called "Operation Naked King," have not been previously reported.
Morales, a former leader of Bolivia's coca growers union, has long been at loggerheads with the DEA. In 2008, Morales expelled the agency from the country and embarked on his own strategy of combatting drug trafficking, acknowledging the traditional uses of coca in Bolivian culture and working cooperatively with coca growers to regulate some legal activity and to promote alternative development elsewhere. Morales' plan has been effective at reducing cultivation, according to the United Nations.
But that doesn't mean the DEA accepted its eviction quietly. In fact, the agency went after members of Morales' administration in an apparent effort to undermine his leadership.
The sealed indictments, revealed last week in a lawsuit filed by long-time DEA informant Carlos Toro, target Walter Álvarez, a top Bolivian air force official; the late Raul García, father of Vice President Álvaro García Linera; Faustino Giménez, an Argentine citizen and Bolivian resident who is said to be close to the vice president; and Katy Alcoreza, described as an intelligence agent for Morales. Toro said in the court document that he played an integral role in securing the indictments as part of the DEA's undercover investigation into the alleged Bolivian cocaine trafficking ring, which the agency ran out of its office in Asuncion, Paraguay.
Toro filed suit against the federal government in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in September, asking for $5 million in unpaid compensation for his more than 25 years of work for the DEA. A one-time senior official with the Medellin cartel, he went public about his career in a series of interviews with The Huffington Post, and subsequently with CBS News. He has been involved in the investigation, arrest or prosecution of major figures, from Colombian drug trafficker Carlos Lehder to Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, to top members of Mexican cartels.
Spokespeople for the State Department, Department of Justice and DEA declined to comment. However, previous media reports in the region have accused top officials in the Morales administration of being involved in international cocaine trafficking. Rene Sanabria and Oscar Nina, both former top anti-drug officials in the Morales administration, have been arrested for drug trafficking. Nina was arrested this March and Sanabria was arrested in Panama and extradited to the U.S. in 2011; his defenders suspect the arrest was politically motivated.
Morales went on to tout Bolivia's recent successes in reducing coca production, and cited Colombia -- which has, according to the United Nations, seen a significant increase in coca cultivation over the past year, despite U.S. support -- as an example of U.S.-backed failure.
The U.S. government and the DEA made no secret of their displeasure when their longtime nemesis, Morales, was elected. “If radicals continue to hijack the indigenous movement, we could find ourselves faced with a narcostate that supports the uncontrolled cultivation of coca," General James T. Hill, a U.S. army commander with the Southern Command, told the House Armed Services Committee in March 2004, referring to Morales' movement.
There is a running joke in Bolivia and other Latin American countries that goes like this:
Q: Why has there never been a military coup in the United States?
A: Because there's no U.S. embassy in the U.S.
By 2014, the Times was writing about Bolivia's renaissance:
Tucked away in the shadow of its more populous and more prosperous neighbors, tiny, impoverished Bolivia, once a perennial economic basket case, has suddenly become a different kind of exception — this time in a good way.
Republished from Huffington Post