Drug Dealers of The Past
In the 1970s, Suarez first entered into the cocaine trade, conducting business with Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar. Later, he recruited Bolivia Coca producers into his company. Suarez had a fleet of aircraft, which flew cocaine shipments from the Bolivian Amazon to selling the cocaine at $9,000 per kilogram. In self-defense against the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Suarez established his own private air force, as well as a private army of 1,500 soldiers and Libyan-trained bodyguard. With aid from the Argentine military dictatorship, Suarez financed the military coup and bankrupted the government, which collapsed. The coup installed a dictatorship in 1980, in which Luis Garcia Meza would be President and Suarez’s cousin Luis Arce Gamez was Minister of the Interior, and so he received political protection for his enterprise. Arce Gamez ordered the killings of many Bolivians, including union leaders and intellectuals such as Marcelo Quiroga Santa Cruz. According to some sources, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) knew about the coup in advance. During the 1980s, Suarez’s relationship with Escobar slowly deteriorated because of Escobar’s murderous activities, which contrasted with Suarez’s use of violence only as a last resort. In 1981, Suarez’s favored son Roberto “Robby” Levy was arrested in Switzerland and was extradited to the United States. In a letter to Ronald Reagan in 1983, Suarez offered to pay Bolivia’s foreign debt of more than $3 billion if he and his son received amnesty. Suarez continued to be under the protection of the DEA and the Bolivian military government through most of the 1980s until his activities became too notorious.
Arrest and release
On July 20, 1988, SuÃ¡rez was arrested by the Bolivian National Police and his hacienda was raided; more than one and a half tons of cocaine was found. He was sentenced to 15 years in the San Pedro prison for drug trafficking but served only 7 years. He was released in 1996 due to accounts of good behavior and declining health, having suffered two heart attacks in prison. His nephew and successor, Jorge Roca Suarez (known as “Techo de Paja“), was also serving a 30-year sentence in the United States for drug trafficking. During his time in prison, Suarez was said to have shown regret for his crimes, had found religious faith in jail and preferred to be photographed next to images of Jesus Christ. Suarez had lost most of his fortune, spent on the construction of buildings and other philanthropic activities. He spent the remaining years of his life managing his hacienda.
Death and legacy
On Thursday evening, July 20, 2000, Suarez died from a heart attack in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Weeks before his death, in a TV interview, Suarez repented of his crimes and stated “The worst mistake I ever made in my life was to have gotten involved in cocaine trafficking”. Suarez was buried in a small niche in Cochabamba.