RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – The apprehension of José Samuel Sánchez last month in the Brazilian state of Amazonas proved the country is being used by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) for drug trafficking. Sánchez, who goes by the aliases “Martín Ávila” or “Tatareto,” is a suspected drug trafficker who also assists in the notorious group’s logistics and financial planning, officials say.
Federal police arrested Sánchez and seven other suspected FARC members – four Brazilians and three Colombians – and seized 45 kilograms (99 pounds) of cocaine during the Solimões Route Operation along the river with the same name.
Sánchez had an import/export fish company and is suspected of using boats to transport cocaine from Colombia to Brazil by stuffing it inside fish carcasses, officials said.
“I think this is the first time [or] one of the first times we are sure that a FARC member is trafficking drugs in the national territory,” says chief of police Sérgio Fontes, superintendent of the Federal Police in the Amazon state.
But Brazilian drug barons doing business with the FARC is nothing new, Brazilian officials say.
Luiz Fernando da Costa, known as Fernandinho Beira-Mar and considered one of the largest traffickers of weapons and drugs in Latin America, was arrested in 2001 by the Colombian Army, who suspected him of trading weapons to guerrillas for cocaine.
In 2002, Leonardo Dias Mendonça, then-considered Brazil’s largest drug dealer, was arrested and accused of the same crime as Beira-Mar.
In Colombia, all of the cartels pay protection fees to the FARC, the guerrilla organization National Liberation Army (ELN) or to right-wing paramilitary groups, Fontes says.
Sánchez had a well-organized syndicate in Brazil, where he had been working for at least four years, Fontes says.
Sánchez had a ranch near Manaus – the capital city of the state of Amazonas – where he would separate and distribute narcotics and where two radios used to contact the FARC were found.
“That method allows us to say that great amounts of drugs were brought to Brazil and that the shipments were constant,” Fontes says.
But being a member of the FARC is not a crime in Brazil.
“What happened here is there was a criminal organization dedicated to drug trafficking, whose leader happens to be a FARC member,” Fontes says.
The Brazilian Intelligence Agency (Abin) said it has been following the FARC’s actions domestically since 2008. Abin sends its reports on the FARC to law enforcement or military officials in charge of the potentially compromised area.
Abin officials said they have evidence the FARC is running drugs through the state of Amazonas, where they also are suspected of money laundering. Abin officials also allege the FARC uses narcotics to trade for food and other goods.
Abin said the FARC’s presence in Brazil may be a result of the push by Colombian President Álvaro Uribe to quell the guerrilla group’s presence in the Andean nation, driving them across the border.
Abin said it is working with international agencies to keep track of the FARC’s activities, especially in the state of Amazonas.
The National Public Security Force has helped the state police of Amazonas and the Federal Police to monitor the borders in Northern Brazil since Dec. 14. They will continue working in the region for 90 more days after having scored a major victory by arresting Sánchez.
The National Public Security Force was created in 2005 by the federal government under the Ministry of Justice. It is formed by 8,000 elite police officers from different Brazilian states who participate in national security operations.
The Amazon Protected Program, which is supervised by the Brazilian Army, wants to create 28 special border units, better equip the 21 existing ones and strengthen the overall operation by 2030.
But the FARC isn’t the only ruthless gang operating in Brazil, officials say. Paraguayan government officials said they have information the FARC teaches its techniques to members of the armed leftist group Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP), according to the Brazilian magazine Época. The magazine also reported the FARC is teaching EPP members to execute robberies and kidnappings to generate money.
The EPP is suspected of committing crimes since at least 2000, including the kidnapping and murder of Cecilia Cubas, the daughter of former Paraguayan president Raúl Cubas, in 2004.
There also is strong evidence the EPP was behind a March 29 attack that left Paraguayan Sen. Robert Acevedo injured and two of his advisors dead, according to Época. Brazilian criminal group First Command of the Capital (PCC) also is suspected of having participated in the attack, according to Época.
Even Europe has found evidence of FARC’s activities. Spanish judge Eloy Velasco stated in a writ the FARC and the Basque separatist terrorist group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) have conspired to form assassination plots to kill Colombian officials in Spain.