A Common Threat
By Dialogo April 01, 2011
Southern Cone countries have realized that halting the drug flow through their territory begins with secure borders. As the shortest route between their cocaine-producing Andean neighbors and West Africa, a major conduit to the European drug market, the Southern Cone has increased as a transit point for shipping cocaine to consumer markets abroad. The illicit trade in turn threatens the local population with a growing sense of insecurity, the presence of criminal organizations and armed gangs, and as many as 2.4 million drug users on the continent, according to 2010 U.N. figures.
“It is easier to secure drugs at the border than to secure drugs at the ports,” said Oslain Santana, coordinator of the counternarcotics unit of the Brazilian Federal Police, explaining that once drugs have entered the country, they are redistributed to numerous traffickers. Brazil increased the number of police officers by 90 percent between 2007 and 2010. In the past three to four years, Santana told Diálogo in an interview from Brasilia that new police officers spend their first tour assigned to the state of Amazonas, which borders Peru and Colombia.
The country also increased its training and cooperation with Paraguay, Bolivia and Uruguay. In 2010, an agreement was signed with Colombia to allow an officer exchange program this year. Skills training with regional, European and U.S. officials takes place regularly in Brazil covering topics including money laundering, drug interdiction in ports and airports and use of canines.
In Brazil, technological innovations have included electronic surveillance on the border, unmanned aerial vehicles and greater information sharing with international agencies such as Interpol, as well as internal intelligence gathering. Santana said that his nation’s collaboration with the U.S. government goes back 20 years. “We are very grateful in large part for the technology and investigation techniques used for drug interdiction,” he said. Santana added that while drug interdiction is primarily the responsibility of the Federal Police, informal relationships with the Brazilian military are vital for sharing logistical information and requesting assistance in the form of boats and helicopters to track down traffickers.
Sean Waite, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA, country attaché in Chile, told Diálogo in an e-mail interview that larger scale trafficking is more common at the northern borders of Chile and through the ports of Arica and Iquique, near Peru and Bolivia. Some 40 percent of border drug seizures in 2010 also took place in Paso Los Libertadores according to the government; the pass is located directly east of the major port of Valparaiso on Chile’s border with Argentina and the largest access route to the capital of Santiago. The Chilean government announced in February 2011 an investment of $35 million for a new border complex, and 10,000 more Carabineros police to help fight narcotrafficking and organized crime, according to the Chilean government website, www.gob.cl. Chile has also increased surveillance of containers at its ports and upgraded border surveillance technology along its northern borders with Peru and Bolivia, including the use of unmanned aerial vehicles.
Lucia Dammert, an analyst with the nongovernmental Global Consortium on Security Transformation in Santiago, said Chile has become part of the network of drug routes feeding consumer markets internally and in Brazil and Argentina. “It is important to recognize that this is a regional problem,” she said. Maritime trafficking hot spots have emerged in the border zones to the north of the country. “There are ports that receive much more transit of goods, much more transit of people, and in this, we can see a greater presence in drug trafficking,” she said.
The Chilean police have also received training from a variety of sources, including the DEA Academy’s International Training Section, according to Waite.
In 2009, Argentina identified dozens of illegal airstrips near its borders with Paraguay and Bolivia. New military radar stations were installed and legislation was enacted to allow for immediate information sharing between provincial and federal police forces, according to industry forecaster Global Insight.
Across the region, countries are noticing increases in violent crime associated with the drug trade. In Argentina, a triple murder in 2008 gripped the attention of Buenos Aires residents and drew notice to the violence associated with drug trafficking. Drug violence in Brazil is often associated with powerful gangs. “In this country, we have observed that violence is intimately connected to the trafficking of drugs,” said Santana, noting the relationship between arms trafficking and drug trafficking.
Dammert believes that while Chile is not known for large scale drug seizures, the real threat in the country is the rise in violence and crime associated with drug consumption. “A significant percentage of crimes that take place in the country are done by people who are drug addicts, or who are looking for money to buy drugs, or by people who live in the world of trafficking,” she said, adding that a recent study by Fundacion Paz Ciudadana (Citizen Peace Foundation) in Santiago found that 80 percent of those detained had consumed drugs in the 24 hours prior to their arrest. “This is perhaps one of the top concerns in Chile, the increase in insecurity, or the feeling of safety,” Dammert said.
Security experts acknowledged to Diálogo there is more to be done to combat this threat. Santana advocates regional cooperation through information sharing and training. “Brazil is encouraging information exchange,” he said, noting the DEA as an example for the region. “We are trying to apply the same policy with countries here in the Southern Cone with respect to producers of cocaine and marijuana.”
Chile’s Dammert believes steps have been taken toward regional collaboration, but she said the road is still long, “Even if we do not have high levels of violence, we have to begin to review the best ways to prevent these groups from establishing themselves by strengthening the institutions of government and, above all, look at the role each country plays in the varied world of crime.”