Bolivia, Brazil Join Forces Against Drug Trafficking, Organized Crime
By Dialogo March 19, 2012
In late January, Bolivia’s Special Force Against Drug Trafficking (FELCN),
working with Brazilian police, captured 12 drug traffickers on the border with
Brazil — just as the heads of both countries’ armed forces met to coordinate
strategies in the fight against drug trafficking.
“In a combined operation with information from Brazil, we apprehended 12
people involved in cocaine traffic and other crimes,” Col. Gonzalo Quezada, director
of FELCN, told reporters. He said six of the detainees were Bolivian, the other six
were Brazilian, and that operation took place in the border area of San Matías on
the Bolivian side and Cáceres in Brazil.
The information Brazil supplied revealed that the Brazilian suspects had long
criminal records including previous convictions for drug trafficking, among other
In January, FELCN seized more than 1.5 tons of cocaine and 30 tons of
marijuana, said Quezada. It has also stepped up the pace of destroying laboratories
and eradicating illegal coca plantations, with a goal to eliminate 10,000 hectares
“We are going at a good pace in our interdiction efforts,” Quezada said.
On Jan. 26 and 27, the heads of the Bolivian Armed Forces (FFAA) and the
Brazilian Joint Command met in Campo Grande, Brazil, to coordinate their
anti-narcotics strategy along the 3,000-kilometer-long border. It followed a memo of
understanding signed by the two countries’ ministers of defense last October; other
areas of cooperation include disaster assistance as well as Brazilian logistical,
technical and equipment support for the Bolivian Armed Forces, and use of unmanned
aircraft for border patrols.
The bilateral meeting was headed by FFAA’s commander in chief, Gen. Tito
Gandarillas, and the Brazilian commander of the Joint Command, José Carlos de
The need for this bilateral cooperation has become more apparent as Bolivia,
the world’s third-largest producer of cocaine, grows increasingly attractive to
international drug trade organizations. Bolivia has also become a significant
transit zone for cocaine of Peruvian origin, says a report by the U.S. Drug
Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Last December, Bolivia participated as an observer in Brazilian’s Operation
Agata 3, which focused on integrating all the branches of Brazil’s Armed Forces in
the protection of border areas.
Brazilian aircraft carry drugs from Bolivia
Bolivia is now the top exporter of cocaine to Brazil, say authorities. In
January, news media revealed that Brazilian companies offering flights in border
areas rent their small planes to drug traffickers. Such planes often change their
flight plans to stop in Bolivia to pick up drugs, said FECLN’s Quezada.
He told reporters that both countries will significantly step up vigilance of
aircrafts that have changed their itineraries. Quezada also noted similar problems
with Paraguay and Argentina.
Brazil’s Federal Police has repeatedly denounced low-flying planes in border
areas that attempt to cross into Brazilian airspace. According to official
government reports, these planes travel up to 50 kilometers into Brazilian territory
and deliver large quantities of cocaine to Brazilian drug kingpins.
Most of this cocaine comes from the Bolivian drug-producing region of
Chapare, and it’s distributed throughout Brazil, according to the report. Despite
the high cost of operations, drug traffickers continue to use aircraft because they
almost always succeed in penetrating Brazilian airspace.
“Even the Bolivian and Brazilian suppliers living in Bolivia, who had
traditionally used land routes and rivers, and mules, have now opted for air
transport,” Eder Rosa de Magalhães, a spokesperson for the Federal Police in Mato
Grosso, told local media.
Bolivia, Brazil and the U.S. anti-drug accord
As part of joint efforts in the fight against organized crime and drug
smuggling, Bolivia, Brazil and the United States recently signed an agreement to
strengthen ties and define their joint cooperation.
Wilfredo Chávez, Bolivia’s minister of government; Marcel Biato, Brazil’s
ambassador to Bolivia, and John Creamer, charge d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in
Bolivia, signed the three-way accord Jan. 21 at a ceremony in La Paz.
“The project specifically seeks to develop methodologies for the detection of
new areas of expansion of surplus coca cultivation, to verify measurement
methodology, to monitor crops, to provide technical support for the reduction of
surplus coca cultivation in areas under eradication and rationalization, to provide
regular feedback for effective planning, to prioritize new areas of intervention,
and to ensure that relevant information is available in a timely fashion,” reads the
Under the deal, the United States will provide equipment and training, Brazil
will be responsible for supplying satellite images as well as needed training in
this area, and Bolivia will handle surveillance.
The agreement also calls for better and more efficient monitoring of illegal
crops — since Bolivia does allow for legal coca growing — targeted for eradication.
Bolivia has 31,000 hectares of coca under cultivation, according to the
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. This is exceeded worldwide only by Peru,
with 57,000 hectares, and Colombia, with 61,200 hectares.
On Jan. 31, Brazilian Federal Police launched Operation Brasiguai,
dismantling a Foz do Iguaçu-based criminal network that had long been involved in
drug trafficking. The operation lasted nine months as police tightened the knot
around the network and gathered evidence.
Operation Brasiguai resulted in 17 arrests and the seizure of vehicles,
firearms and other contraband. This group specialized in cocaine, and used luxury
cars and sport-utility vehicles to hide drug shipments coming in from Bolivia and
Paraguay, hiring drivers and registering vehicles in their names, said police.