LA PAZ – Bolivian President Evo Morales said Wednesday that the deployment of elite army troops on the border with Chile is not an attack on the neighboring country but rather is justified as part of La Paz’s fight against smuggling.
“We have decided to reorganize the fight against smuggling. There is a team of ministers that is working on it. That is no attack on Chile. If it’s important to mobilize some of our forces, it’s going to be against smuggling and not against the Chilean people, and even less so against the Chilean government,” Morales emphasized at a press conference.
The president made his remarks upon being consulted about the statement of Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Muñoz, who said that Bolivia’s mobilization of troops along the mutual border was a “delicate matter.”
“We would not want this to escalate into something dangerous,” Chile’s top diplomat said before departing with Chilean President Michelle Bachelet for Indonesia and China.
Morales emphasized that the specialized units of the police and the armed forces were being mobilized to “defend the economy” and Bolivian companies that are being harmed by cross-border smuggling.
“I’m convinced that smuggling is occurring there,” he said.
He also noted that the Chilean army, along with the US military, conducts combined military maneuvers once or twice a year along the border with Bolivia, which he said was “a geographic attack, an intimidation.”
Meanwhile, after a Cabinet meeting, Defense Minister Reymi Ferreira emphasized that the elite F-10 military unit was ordered to the area because certain border communities that are working with smugglers and there have been attacks on customs officials.
Ferreira said that the troops have been in the area for several days operating under instructions from customs authorities and are deployed at all the border crossing points although “any action (is occurring) a minimum of one kilometer (0.6 mile) ... from the border to avoid any kind of incident.”
In addition, he said that the zone is the area through which much illegal merchandise enters Bolivia, adding that during 2016 authorities seized $34 million worth of smuggled goods and $24 million worth during the first four months of this year.