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Bolivian president riled by officer firing

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LA PAZ, Bolivia — As Bolivia's top counternarcotics officer, Rene Sanabria's loyalties straddled two worlds: one of tight cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the other dominated by an intensely nationalistic president who rose to power as a militant coca grower.

In the end, it appears, Sanabria betrayed both.

The retired police general was arrested last week in Panama on charges he ran a cocaine-smuggling ring while leading an elite, 15-person anti-drug intelligence unit within Bolivia's Interior Ministry.

His capture badly bruised the credibility of President Evo Morales' policy of zero tolerance for cocaine, and can only hurt his efforts to end a global prohibition on coca leaf chewing.

It offered vindication to the DEA, as Sanabria's alleged crimes took place after Morales expelled the U.S. agency in late 2008 for allegedly inciting his autonomy-seeking opponents in eastern provinces.

According to U.S. officials, the expulsion of the roughly 30 U.S. drug agents allowed trafficking in this landlocked South American nation to spin out of control.

In the DEA's absence, Mexican, Brazilian, Colombian — even Russian and Serbian traffickers — have taken advantage and boosted exports from the world's No. 3 cocaine-producing nation.