Armed Forces and Law Enforcement Fight Crime on Brazil’s Southern Border

Cooperation between Brazil’s Armed Forces and law enforcement agencies, with participation of the Uruguayan Army, strengthens the fight against crime.
Patrícia Comunello/Diálogo | 1 June 2018

Transnational Threats

Brazilian service members work at a Federal Revenue Office checkpoint in Santana do Livramento, in Rio Grande do Sul, on the border with Uruguay. (Photo: Brazilian Army)

Joint and interagency operations of Brazil’s Armed Forces and law enforcement agencies to fight transnational crime have intensified in recent years in the country’s southern region. The seizures of drugs and weapons in April 2018 highlighted the importance of Operation Southern Border (FORSUL, in Portuguese), one of Brazil’s most important ongoing efforts in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. The Brazilian Army (EB, in Portuguese) keeps up surveillance and prepares for the next round of FORSUL scheduled for the end of 2018. “Our mission is to prevent and crack down on transnational crimes, especially the illegal entry and outflow of weapons, munitions, and other controlled products, as well as narcotrafficking and contraband,” said EB Colonel Jorge Francisco de Souza Júnior, commander of the 2nd Mechanized Calvary Regiment (RCMec, in Portuguese), located in São Borja, Rio Grande do Sul, on the border with Argentina.

The region of São Borja, Rio Grande do Sul, has roadblocks for vehicles traveling along the border with Argentina. (Photo: Brazilian Army)

According to the Federal Highway Police (PRF, in Portuguese), the state recorded its largest marijuana seizure on April 26th. Authorities seized 6.63 tons of marijuana in a truck hailing from Iraí—a city roughly 160 kilometers from the border with Argentina and an international trafficking route. The drug was meant to supply the greater metropolitan region of Porto Alegre, the state capital of Rio Grande do Sul.

Federal highway police officer Alessandro Castro, head of PRF’s Public Relations in Rio Grande do Sul, confirmed an investigation was ongoing on how the marijuana entered Brazil. The Federal Police (PF, in Portuguese) reported that the cargo was nearly equal to the total amount seized in 2017—6.6 tons. In 2016, the total was 4.5 tons. On April 13th, civil and military authorities found 13 AR-556 rifles and one AK 762 inside a car with a Paraguayan license plate headed to Bento Gonçalves, in the northeastern part of the state.

Among the latest joint and interagency operations, Col. Souza Júnior noted the most recent FORSUL, conducted from December 2017 to early February 2018. He also pointed out to mobile patrols along the borders with Uruguay and Argentina. Patrols, made up of PRF, PF, the Military Brigade (the state’s Military Police), the Civil Police, and the Federal Revenue Office, are constants to oversee operations and prevent crimes along the border. Covering the 1,800-kilometer border with Uruguay and Argentina represents the biggest challenge. “Since this is such a long stretch of land, we focus our efforts on areas where crimes are most likely to occur,” said EB Major General José Ricardo Vendramin Nunes, commander of the 3rd Mechanized Calvary Brigade (BdaCMec, in Portuguese), headquartered in Bagé. The 3rd BdaCMec guards 700 of the 1,068-km border with Uruguay.

FORSUL and interaction with Uruguay

During the last FORSUL—akin to the Ministry of Defense’s Operation Ágata—Maj. Gen. Vendramin highlighted the simultaneous actions of the armies of Brazil and Uruguay. “They closed it off there [the Uruguayan side] and we did here [Brazil],” he said. “We shared information about each side’s efforts, which increasingly intensified as part of the cooperation between the two countries.” Deployments took place in the area between Santana do Livramento, in Brazil, and Rivera, in Uruguay, and also between Bagé, in Brazil, and Aceguá, in Uruguay. The goal for the next round of FORSUL at the end of 2018 is to replay the bilateral interaction.

The area under the 3rd BdaCMec gathered 812 service members and 11 EB organizations. The largest mobilization occurred November 26–December 1, 2017. Up until early February 2018, a few military units conducted mobile patrols along the border. According to the Public Relations Office of the Southern Military Command, which coordinated the operation in Santa Catarina and Paraná, FORSUL mobilized a total of 3,816 units in Rio Grande do Sul—3,389 from EB and 427 from law enforcement agencies.

The Federal Police conducted the joint and interagency Operation Degraded Nature on the Uruguay River, along Brazil’s border with Argentina. (Photo: Federal Police of Brazil)

“The most intense operation was conducted in a short spurt, preceded by intelligence work to map out locations and set up surveillance points where crimes were most likely to occur,” Maj. Gen. Vendramin said. “There weren’t any significant seizures, but that wasn’t the objective. The job was to prevent behavior and crime, dissuade, and show our presence on the border.” Another expected outcome of FORSUL operations is to complement the troop’s training. “If the Brazilian government decides to expand an operation similar in time or scope, we’re trained and have plans in place,” he added.

Roadblocks curb crime

According to Maj. Gen. Vendramin, the strategy to curb crime included troop mobilization, using Marruá and Worker transport vehicles. Service members kept up roadblocks and patrols in 10 to 12 areas. Troops worked for 12 hours on fixed roadblock locations, checking cargo of trucks and passenger vehicles. Mobile blockades monitored rivers along the border and allowed for broader surveillance. “When we conduct an operation, they [criminals] take their foot off the gas, and when we demobilize the troops, a week later there might be seizures,” Maj. Gen. Vendramin said. With surveillance operations in place until the end of 2018, service members also contribute to maintaining roads that need the most work.

On the border with Argentina, the 2nd RCMec mobilized three mechanized calvary squadrons for maintenance, health, and supplies. “We are responsible for a 180-km area, encompassing the municipalities of São Borja, Garruchos, Santo Antônio das Missões, and Nhu-Porã [in Rio Grande do Sul],” Col. Souza Júnior said. The troops kept a rigid around-the-clock routine. Roadblocks with checkpoints marked the operation. “Mobilization occurred in short bursts while constantly changing checkpoints, to ensure the element of surprise in areas where crime might occur, which we tracked with intel support,” Col. Souza Júnior added, noting the ongoing cooperation and intensifying operations with other agencies. Activities included joint and interagency roadblocks with PF, PRF, the Military Brigade, the Environmental and Civil Police, in addition to customs at the Integration Bridge, which connects São Borja to Santo Tomé, on the Argentine side. Col. Souza Júnior noted the last round of FORSUL registered a drop in crimes and seizures.

Navy and Federal Police fight crime

Federal Police Chief Getúlio Jorge de Vargas, coordinator of PF’s Operation Sentinel in Rio Grande do Sul, said that teamwork made crime fighting more successful on the border. Sentinel, kicked off in 2011, is a yearly operation with PF, PRF, and the National Public Safety Force. “We aren’t going to fight crime without intelligence and integrated efforts,” Chief Vargas said. In 2016 and 2017, PF conducted Operation Degraded Nature against crimes along Rio Grande do Sul’s border with Argentina on the Uruguay River. Use of technology such as georeferencing contributed to identifying crimes. A new operation was conducted on the Uruguay River, April 2-6, 2018.

According to Vargas, the fight against narcotrafficking must be ongoing. He noted a growing number of marijuana seizures on the routes to Uruguay, originating in Paraguay. “As long as there is a consumer market, there will be a seller, who is the drug dealer,” Vargas said, addressing the migration of organized crime gangs, such as the First Command of the Interior, from the metropolitan region to the border.

The Brazilian Navy in Rio Grande do Sul joined the fight against crime in 2017, carrying out three phases of Operation Ágata, according to the Public Relations Department of the 5th Naval District. Their activities included surveillance on the sea, near Uruguay, and on rivers, along the border with Argentina, working with environmental and law enforcement agencies.

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