Chile — 03 September 2013

Chile is pushing its Northern Border Plan further into the Atacama desert to patrol difficult-to-access and uninhabited sections of the border, to slow the flow of drugs into the country.  The government enacted the plan in 2011, but smugglers have gone around areas where patrols were increased and detection technology deployed, moving their activities into areas that are more lightly patrolled or difficult to access.   Part of the plan includes the purchase of new equipment.  Several officials in the Ministry of the Interior have resigned after it was revealed that they paid four times the market value for expensive portable drug scanners.  Some workers in the Department of Health have been arrested, because they sold drugs on the black market which were supposed to have been destroyed.  Finally, some police have been arrested for corruption and conspiracy with drug trafficking organizations.

Alejandro Müller Gutiérrez is a  spokesman for the Ministry of the Interior and Public Security. Asked to comment on the Northern Border Plan in an email he responded, “As Rodrigo Ubilla, Subsecretary of the Interior indicated to the press, the Northern Border Plan will be implemented in the second half of the 2013 in new areas of the country in order to slow the clandestine ingress of drugs, people, and merchandise via the cities in the north of Chile.  The decision was based on technical information from the police and the Federal Investigative Services (PDI) that shows that drug trafficking movements are relocating from the regions which today have better controls along the border like Arica, Parinacota, Tarapaca, and Antofagasta toward the south of the territory.”

Mr. Müller described the this way, “This is a strategy that incorporates and maritime regions, in the air, and on the ground; the border crossings [in the Andes] where people live and those which are uninhabited, using human resources and technology that allows the observation, generates alerts and thus police action, with a coordination directed among the principal players improving the operative capacity of the institutions responsible for controlling the border and the relevant policies.“

Part of the plan includes the purchase of advanced equipment to detect drugs hidden in vehicles.  The Center of Investigative Journalism in Chile, in a lengthy report, said that functionaries of the Ministry of the Interior paid four times the market value for portable scanners and bought fiber optic equipment used to peer into crowded spaces even though the fiber optic equipment is available in Chile at 30% less.  Further, the bidding period soliciting this equipment was unusually short. 2  SAS R&D services manufacturers the scanning equipment in the USA for $9,000 USD each.  The Ministry of Interior purchased 52 of the devices from the Chilean reseller Tecnodata at a price four times that.  Tecnodata bought the equipment from the importer Accessories and Investments Santa Victoria Limited, a company dedicated to food imports.

 The House of Delegates has taken up an investigation while Mr. Muller says officials in charge of the administering the program were dismissed.  He says, “Undersecretary Rodrigo Ubillo asked for the resignation of Felipe Baeza, Carlos Alvarez and Manuel Cancho.  Alejandro Peña resigned from his position as Chief of the Division of Investigations.”  Prosecutors are also looking into the case.

 Ciper also reported that Chile bought new drug incinerators and three vans equipped with x-ray scanners as part of the border plan.  The new ovens and vans both have been plagued by technical difficulties.  The ovens cannot be used in the city of Santiago, because they do not comply with the city’s strict air control standards.  (Santiago is plagued by smog in winter so it is, for example,  prohibited to burn firewood then.)  The idea was to deploy the portable X-ray scanners at strategic points and then looking inside buildings and passing vehicles.  But the health authorities denied the police permission to do so saying the indiscriminate exposure of people to X-rays is not allowed.

 The government bought the high-tech incinerators when it was was discovered that 100 kilos of marijuana that were to be destroyed were sold on the black market–the marijuana was left behind when the ordinary funeral-home crematory they used did not completely burn up all the drugs inside leaving them open to theft.  The diversion of drugs destined for destruction happened on another occasion as well.  Second Sergeant Luis Contreras González was arrested when he tried to sell 735 grams of marijuana.

 El Mercurio newspaper reported that this problem was widespread at one time.  They said that at the end of 2010, 10% of the cocaine seized was lost before it is incinerated.    They reported that since then new procedures have been put in place.

 In Chile, the Department of Health is charged with destroying drugs.  Sealing and selling confiscated drugs is not a problem in the port city of Valparaiso according Rodrigo Sacaan Montecino who administers the office there.  In an interview in his office he said that, “For us, we do not have any problem.  We do regular audits of the confiscation unit.  We reviewed with the public prosecutor following this topic and did not have any reparo [translation question, see below] nor demerit because there are procedures and protocols with which we must comply.”

 Regarding training Fernando Loyola, who is a Deputy to the Commissioner of the PDI in Valparaiso confirmed that the police here have received training from the DEA.

 Other incidents of corruption among the police were reported in the La Tercera newspaper in what their headline called a “network of corruption”.  The newspaper says Cristóbal Lira, Undersecretary of the Prevention of Crime, commented on the arrest  of four   police who had been detained, saying the situation was, “Very sad” and that internal controls are working”

This occurred on week in which 10 detectives were arrested accused of working with drug traffickers.   Lira said that these people were detained indicates that procedures put in place to audit and monitor the activities of the police are working.

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