Brazil Seizes Nearly 7 Tons of Drugs in the Amazon

The Amazon Military Command’s operations, conducted in partnership with government agencies during the first half of 2018, show positive results.
Andréa Barretto/Diálogo | 5 June 2018

Transnational Threats

The Amazon Military Command’s Special Border Platoons patrol the border and work with communities who live in hard-to-reach places, among other missions. (Photo: Brazilian Army)

From January to May 2018, the Brazilian Armed Forces seized nearly 6.6 tons of drugs in the area under the responsibility of the Amazon Military Command (CMA, in Portuguese) headquartered in Manaus, the capital of Amazonas. The 170 operations were conducted in partnership with government agencies of four states in the Amazon that border Guyana, Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia.

According to figures CMA published at the end of May, the seizures also included 26,700 cubic meters of timber illegally harvested from the forest, 68 firearms, and 77,500 liters of fuel. Service members and police officers also arrested 87 people in connection with the crimes.

Patrols on the Amazon’s borders have intensified since the end of 2017, as per the operational model the Integrated Border Protection Program established in 2016. The program led to a restructuring of Operation Ágata, which ran during predefined periods and covered large swaths of territory. Service members and security agents now conduct sporadic operations throughout the year, for shorter periods and with a smaller force.

Constant surveillance

An example of this type of engagement is Operation Shield (Operação Escudo), designed to fight transnational crimes and increase military presence in the country’s border regions. “This operation goes on since January and will continue throughout the year [2018], with around 12 border reconnaissance missions a month,” Brazilian Army (EB, in Portuguese) Major General Gustavo Henrique Dutra de Menezes, commander of the 1st Jungle Infantry Brigade, headquartered in Boa Vista, in the state of Roraima. During Operation Shield, the 1st Brigade’s troops covered the 2,000 kilometers bordering Venezuela and Guyana.

According to Maj. Gen. Dutra, border reconnaissance consists of patrols on border limits. Service members’ notes on their circuit are then fed into the brigade’s database. Visits to indigenous communities—who live in hard-to-reach-locations—to attend to any potential needs are part of patrols.

Another example of intermittent CMA operations is Operation Control (Operação Controle). The operation on federal and state highways sets up roadblocks and checkpoints to control means of transport for drugs and other illicit goods. Motorized patrols and patrols on foot on trails and other routes are also carried out.

The Brazilian Army patrols a river in the Amazon during Operation Control, in April 2018. (Photo: 1st Jungle Infantry Brigade, Brazilian Army)

In addition to fighting crime and enhancing security along the border, Operation Control aims to intensify the monitoring of immigrants from neighboring countries. In Brazil, immigrants are directed to welcome centers or receive help to return to their country.

“These actions produced some significant numbers, such as the setup of more than 100 roadblocks, the inspection of 32,000 vehicles, and the seizure of nearly $537,000 in contraband,” Maj. Gen. Dutra said of Operation Control’s results since the start of 2018.

Groundwork

Four jungle infantry brigades, a total of 20,000 service members, perform CMA operations. The brigades coordinate 24 Special Border Platoons (PEF, in Portuguese), deployed along the border, which in turn broaden CMA’s operations.

“Permanent surveillance and constant patrols constitute routine operations of the platoon’s service members. Service members work daily under the motto ‘Life, Combat, and Work,’ which sums up everything a Brazilian Army Special Border Platoon does,” said EB Major General Cristiano Pinto Sampaio, commander of the 16th Jungle Infantry Brigade, headquartered in the city of Tefé in the state of Amazonas.

The 2nd PEF, which reports to the 16th Brigade, made one of the largest drug seizures in 2018 within CMA’s jurisdiction. The January operation was a night raid on a channel of the Içá River, also known as the Putumayo, a tributary of the Amazon River. Service members found 1,860 kilograms of marijuana in a clandestine vessel. “The drugs were taken to the federal police station in Tabatinga, where the criminal investigation unit follows procedures as per the law,” said Maj. Gen. Pinto Sampaio.

The 2nd PEF covers an area on the border with Colombia. According to Maj. Gen. Pinto Sampaio, the jungle area is sparsely populated, like other parts of this region, and lacks government presence. These conditions lead the platoon’s service members to work beyond security and defense tasks, such as assisting with healthcare, evacuating sick people, and mediating minor conflicts. “All that makes the mission even more challenging for service members and their families,” Maj. Gen. Pinto Sampaio concluded.

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