Criminal organizations are joining forces in the Amazon and using the jungle as a route for international cocaine trafficking. Documents from the Colombian Army, obtained by the investigative journalism consortium Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), indicate that dissidents from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have sent tons of cocaine to criminal groups such as the First Capital Command (PCC) in Brazil.
“The documents show the path taken by cocaine that leaves Colombia, passes through Manaus, the Caribbean, and ends up in the hands of consumers in Europe,” Brazilian magazine Piauí, reported in early November.
The investigation began in 2020, based on information passed on to the Colombian Army and the Brazilian Federal Police (PF) by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The DEA drew attention to a scheme to buy and sell cocaine in the region known as Cabeça do Cachorro, in the far northwest of Brazil, where the country borders Colombia and Venezuela, Piauí reported.
One of the routes that Colombian narcos use crosses the border into Brazil by boat along the Vaupés river. In São Miguel da Cachoeira, in the state of Amazonas, “the drugs are taken down the Negro River to the person responsible for the link between the Colombians and the PCC,” Brazilian news site UOL reported. The cocaine is then taken to Manaus, where it is distributed to the Brazilian domestic market and to other countries. The drug is also transported to the port of Barcarena, in the state of Pará, from where it is taken abroad on boats, UOL added.
The reports also indicate that members of the PCC shipped the Colombian cocaine to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, possibly on airplanes. From there, the drug is trafficked to European ports, Piauí reported. The documents indicate that FARC dissidents also have ties with the Red Command (CV), a criminal group based in Rio de Janeiro. The CV’s role would be to “recover routes in Amazonas.” The PCC, meanwhile, is mentioned in the documents as “an ally of narcotraffickers in the south of Colombia and that fights for territory with the CV,” UOL reported.
Gold, coca, and wood
Criminal groups are also destroying large areas of the Amazon to carry out illegal mining, coca cultivation, and timber trafficking. So says the August 2023 report of InSight Crime, an organization that specializes in organized crime, in partnership with Brazilian think tank Igarapé Institute, Stolen Amazon: The Roots of Environmental Crime in the Tri-Border Regions.
The study analyzes the dynamics of crime on two triple borders in the Amazon Basin: Brazil-Colombia-Venezuela and Brazil-Peru-Colombia. The Brazil-Colombia-Venezuela borders are marked by the high growth of illegal mining in the Yapacana National Park in Venezuela. As for the Brazil-Peru-Colombia border, they are the scene of intense logging for coca cultivation in northeastern Peru.
“Once remote areas, both triple borders are central to contemporary forms of cross-border environmental crime,” Melina Risso, research director at the Igarapé Institute, told Diálogo. For more than 20 years, the rivers linking these countries have been used to transport drugs from Colombia and Peru — the largest cocaine producers — to Brazil, one of the main gateways for drugs on the international market.
“This criminal infrastructure is also at the service of illegal mining and timber trafficking today,” Risso said. “Criminals with a lot of power operate on these borders. Colombian guerrillas have taken refuge in the region. In Venezuela, these groups have strengthen their ranks with Venezuelan members.”
The activities of FARC dissidents and Colombian narcotraffickers are not limited to the border region. In mid-August, the Brazilian PF seized 1.2 tons of drugs, including skunk and cocaine, and two AK-47 rifles on the border between the Brazilian states of Amazonas and Roraima. Authorities arrested three Colombians and two Brazilians for narcotrafficking, Brazilian news site G1 reported. “The seizure of the large quantity of drugs was the largest to date in the entire state [of Amazonas],” G1 reported.
Fighting illegal mining
Given the increase in crime in the Amazon, this year Brazilian authorities have stepped up the fight against illegal mining in the Yanomami Indigenous Land (TIY), which covers the states of Amazonas and Roraima. As a result, the area occupied by illegal mining in the TIY has decreased by 78.51 percent, according to data the Ministry of Defense released in September.
From January to September, “146 miners were arrested and 40 tons of cassiterite, 1,675 grams of gold, and 808 pieces of equipment were seized; illegal camps were also neutralized in the TIY region,” the Ministry of Defense said. The federal government’s task force, with the participation of the Armed Forces, and other federal bodies and agencies carried out the operations.
“Data from the Management and Operational Center of the Amazon Protection System, of the Ministry of Defense, indicate that the area occupied by prospectors in the first nine months of this year is 214 hectares. In the same period last year, the area amounted to 999 hectares,” daily Folha de São Paulo reported.
In mid-November, the PF launched Operation Fire Fever to crack down on the illegal extraction of gold ore in the Madeira River, in the state of Rondônia. “Thirty-eight dredges used in the illegal extraction of ore were rendered unusable,” the PF said in a statement.