Compiled by Christopher Martin – Brazil Institute, 02/25/2013
In recent years, Brazil has enjoyed economic success, rising purchasing power, a growing economy, and decreasing poverty levels, which have turned it into a more attractive market for drug trafficking. As cocaine use in the United States, the world’s largest cocaine consumer, has fallen by an estimated two-thirds in the past thirty years, South American drug traffickers are increasingly turning towards Brazil’s growing market. This is proving to be an effective and profitable strategy; recent years have seen cocaine consumption quickly rising and health officials say a nation-wide crack-cocaine epidemic is taking hold. This is obviously not the image the South American giant wishes to project as it prepares to host the 2014 FIFA World Cup, followed by the 2016 Summer Olympics.
With respect to cocaine, Brazil has a border control problem that no other nation in the world has: it shares half of its 10,000-mile-long border with the world’s three biggest cocaine producers: Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru. To make matters worse, much of this border falls in difficult-to-control, remote, and largely unguarded jungle areas. Colombia, which was long the world’s top cocaine producer, has seen the amount of land used for coca leaf production, as well as its ability to produce cocaine, tumble in recent years. However, the decrease in Colombian cocaine production has been eclipsed by Peru and Bolivia, which have seen significantly ramped up production in recent years.
The source of cocaine in Brazil is increasingly landlocked Bolivia, which shares a 2,126 mile border with Brazil, which is longer than the Mexico-U.S. border. Much of the border lies along the Mamore River, separating Bolivia from the Brazilian state of Rodonia, which is patrolled by federal police agents who are under staffed, ill equipped, and must count on a degree of luck to determine which of the countless boats crossing daily are transporting drugs. To make matters worse, the river is dotted with many small and isolated ports that can be used by traffickers to evade authorities. However, according to Sabino Mendoza, an adviser on coca issues to Bolivian President Evo Morales’ government, Bolivia does not consider itself to be a cocaine trafficking country. Mr. Mendoza said the problem is cocaine originating in Peru that makes its way through Bolivia en route to Brazil. “For us and for Brazil, obviously it’s a concern,” he said. “And between the two countries we are resolving it.” Read the rest of this entry »