Bolivia's stolen cars bonanza

Aizar Raldes

Drivers of stolen cars in Bolivia need not fear the police for the next few days.

The country has granted an amnesty allowing residents to legalize cars smuggled or stolen from other countries.

The government estimated that 10,000 cars would be registered during the three-week grace period. They were off by more than a little bit. The number from the first 10 days: more than 70,000, according to EFE. (The country's population is almost 10 million, according to the World Bank.)

The undocumented vehicles, known as "chutos," often come from Chile or other neigboring countries. Critics says the cars have been stolen or are used as payment for drug deals, reported Reuters. Bolivian President Evo Morales said the cars are purchased by the poor, who should not be penalized.

Customs officials in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Peru are trying to prevent cars stolen in their countries from being legalized under the agreement.

Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera said the agreement lays the foundation for a strict future law against smuggled automobiles.

The contraband cars aren't the only unusual vehicles that have turned up on Bolivia streets: Cars ravaged by Hurricane Katrine in New Orleans were sold on internet salvage auctions, with 10,000 ending up in Bolivia.

The Associated Press reported:

Suspected Katrina cars — with their jittery wiring, sand in the cracks and the telltale mildewed stink — have cropped up in a number of countries, but Bolivia has become a particular target. One local environmental agency believes 10,000 or more flooded U.S. cars may have ended up in the landlocked nation, drawn by loose import rules, a thriving smugglers’ economy and an insatiable hunger for cheap wheels.