Position:Brief Article

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...

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