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Smugglers take advantage of Brazil's improved transportation network to move narcotics to the United States and Europe.

DON'T BE SURPRISED IF BRAZIL RECEIVES UNDUE ATTENTION this March during the U.S. government's annual rating of drug-fighting around the globe. Nowadays, Brazilian drug smugglers have more logistics choices than Ford Motor Co.

With more and more jets and barges plying cross-border trade routes, getting through the Amazon jungle is no longer a major problem. Eighteen-wheelers haul the illicit cargo to the coast, where high-tech container equipment and allegedly corrupt officials help move the contraband to the United States, Europe and other destinations, according to recent Brazilian congressional hearings and international investigations.

What's making all this possible? Free trade, says a recent U.S. Maritime Administration security report. Not only has increasing commerce between South American countries led to improved transport infrastructure, but the report warns "the urgency to facilitate trade and expedite the processing of cargo" is resulting in the relaxation of cargo scrutiny. For example, it cites the Paraguay-Parana river system, which has become a popular route to smuggle cocaine shipments from Bolivia into Paraguay, southeastern Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina.

The numbers show an increasing problem. In just the first five months of 1999, Brazilian authorities had captured more than half of 1998's total of six metric tons of cocaine. Over the past 10 years. police have seized about 215 tons of drugs--116 in the past four years alone.

The international law enforcement community has been issuing warnings for years about Brazil's increasing role in the global drug trade and organized crime network. But in recent years, according to a recent U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) report, the improved river transportation system in northwestern Brazil has encouraged narco-traffickers to move cocaine base through Brazil from Andean cultivation areas to processing material laboratories in Colombia. Meanwhile, in the south, drugs are moved by air and over land from Bolivia and Peru to places with international gateways such as Porto Alegre, Santos and Rio de Janeiro.

Brazilian drug smugglers have about 200 jets at their disposal, according to testimony given during recent congressional hearings. They use large farms in the Amazon interior owned by rich ranchers--allegedly among them Hildebrando Pascoal, who was kicked out of the Brazilian Congress after being accused of smuggling, murder and related crimes.

The hearings have revealed drug smuggling problems throughout the rest of the country as well, from the wild Amazon to the postcard ports of Rio de Janeiro. "There will always be drug trafficking here," admits Eliane da Cunha Kullmann, head of public communications for the Federal Police in Rio.

Despite increasing success in drug seizures, the anti-narcotics operations barely scratch the surface. Police recently found a laboratory in Para that was processing up to 10 tons of cocaine each month. Federal police estimate there are six daily jet flights of illegal drugs--one plane they seized contained more than 800 kilos.

President Fernando Henrique Cardoso has admitted that corruption could be found in the highest level of government--as much, he said, as can be found in Italy. Other investigators have discovered that already to be the case: According to the International Criminal Police Organization, more commonly known as Interpol, Brazil ranks third--after Italy and the United States--among countries favored by the loose-knit Italian organized crime group known as the Cosa Nostra.

Italian and Brazilian police report that Italian drug traffickers in Brazil command a large complex distribution and export system for smuggling Colombian and Bolivian cocaine into Europe. Indeed, almost all of the 120 people recently charged with moving drugs through the Amazon town of Tabatinga were taking Colombian cocaine to Europe. And of the 20 foreigners Brazil has extradited for drug-smuggling offenses, 15 were from Italy.

According to the DEA's report, Brazil has made some progress in its battle against drug smuggling. In late 1998, President Cardoso created the National Anti-Drug Secretariat (Senad) to coordinate all counter-narcotics programs and efforts. In February, the Brazilian Congress passed antimoney-laundering legislation as well as laws allowing the military to intercept unauthorized civilian aircraft, including those suspected of smuggling drugs. The federal police also opened a new jungle survival school in the Amazon and have been working with the DEA for even more training.

In the main ports of Rio and Santos, the federal police have set up a task force trained to look for pirates, drug smugglers and other illegal activity. "Because of where we are geographically, traffickers come through here," explains Ricardo D. Gaspar, head of the squad. But now smugglers may find a few more roadblocks in their path.
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Publication:Latin Trade
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2000
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