PUERTO SUAREZ, Bolivia – Police found a cocaine laboratory in the southern Bolivian jungle capable of producing 245 pounds of the drug daily, one of the largest drug labs ever discovered in the Andean country.
Six Colombians and two Bolivians were arrested Monday at the lab near the town of Izozog. Police also seized 35 pounds of cocaine and more than 22 tons of chemicals used to process the drug.
"It's one of the biggest drug busts in recent years," Col. Rene Sanabria, head of Bolivia's Special Anti-Narcotics Force, said Tuesday.
Satellite photos taken by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency revealed the location of the lab, which had been in operation for some time and shipped its product to Brazil, Argentina, and Chile, Sanabria said.
Bolivia ranks third among the world's cocaine-producing nations, behind Colombia and Peru.
Most Bolivian cocaine labs are thought to be small, makeshift affairs designed to produce only coca paste. The paste is then smuggled abroad before being refined into cocaine.
The Izozog lab's capacity to produce bulk quantities of finished cocaine is a dramatic exception. Sanabria and other police officials said the lab used "Colombian technology" to refine the drug, but did not elaborate on whether the lab may have been linked to Colombian cocaine trade.
Last year the United States delivered $91 million in aid to Bolivia to fight cocaine production and encourage coca farmers to switch crops.
But Washington has complained that progress against the crop and its illicit derivative has been slow under President Evo Morales, a former coca grower who took office in 2006 vowing to overhaul Bolivia's approach to controlling the leaf.