Tracking the “Tragonas” Drug Mules

January 10, 2019 Crime , OPINION/NEWS , OTHER , South America

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Ricardo Swire



Political friction between Bolivia and Chile has empowered transnational drug trafficking organizations to recruit more Bolivian females to transport cocaine. “Bad blood” between the duo originated after the four year “War of the Pacific,” when Chile forcefully took control of territory on Bolivia’s pacific coast. The two countries share an eight hundred and fifty mile border, but have no diplomatic relations. In March 1978 the ambassadors were recalled.


Trafficking organizations entice the Bolivian “Tragonas” with no less than US$1,000 payments, to swallow cocaine pellets as human drug mules. Trends show such women are impoverished single parents, overwhelmed by personal debts. In Bolivia one kilo of cocaine costs US$2,200. Each Tragona is given US$1500 to transport a kilo from Bolivia to Santiago de Chile where it retails for US$15 per gram.


Often the product is secretly diluted with talcum powder to increase revenue. In Chile the traffickers’ representatives, carrying concealed weapons, shadow the Tragonas who travel on buses. A digital picture is taken before the drug mule boards at the terminal. Each Tragona is provided with a disposable mobile phone. After arrival in Santiago de Chile another representative meets the drug mule/courier and transports her to a safe house.


One thirty-eight year old Tragona transported cocaine to Iquique in northern Chile. She received US$1,000 plus 100 Chileans and bus tickets at the bus terminal to carry four packages of cocaine to Calama, Chile. Intelligence reports verify that local criminal organizations utilize a strategy known as “False 22” to manipulate the Tragonas. False 22 is an article of Chilean Anti-Drug Trafficking Law which permits compensated cooperation.


Detained traffickers utilize such legal provision to receive reduced sentences. When a captured Tragona informs on another drug courier she benefits. Chile’s Director of Public Prosecutions records identified several False 22 cases. One was the Bolivian Tragona from Oruro who only spoke the Quechua language. She was arrested at a hostel in Antofagasta, a port city in Chile. Chile’s Tarapaca district, eastward of Bolivia’s Oruro Department, has recorded the highest number of intercepted Tragonas.


Bolivian and Chilean law enforcement constantly exchange intelligence on Tragonas and contraband couriers, but no bilateral investigations have been officially conducted. In 2017 the Public Defenders’ Office in Tarapaca, Chile, noted that fifty-eight percent of one hundred and eighty Bolivian women were sentenced and jailed in Alto Hospiucio city, two hundred and thirty kilometres from Bolivia.





Ricardo Swire - Tuck Magazine

Ricardo Swire

Ricardo Swire is the Principal Consultant at R-L-H Security Consultants & Business Support Services and writes on a number of important issues.

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