The Brazilian Army (EB, in Portuguese) conducted six operations in 2017 to crack down on irregularities in the sale of firearms, ammunition, and explosives in Brazil. According to EB’s Controlled Products Oversight Directorate (DFPC, in Portuguese),the operations were the largest mobilization of the armed forces in the last three years. The combined efforts, which included security organizations, law enforcement, and government agencies, were among the most important since 2003, when Public Law 10.826, known as the Disarmament Statute, went into effect.
“We want to prevent controlled products from being diverted and falling into the wrong hands, such as criminal organizations,” said EB Colonel Walter Augusto Teixeira, director of DFPC’s Controlled Products Operations Center (COPCON/DFPC, in Portuguese), headquartered in Brasília. The directorate coordinates the Controlled Products Monitoring System. In 2017, for the first time in the 14 years the statute has been in effect, COPCON/DFPC visited all companies registered in the Military Weapons Management System (SIGMA, in Portuguese). SIGMA gathers information on individuals and legal entities authorized by EB to use controlled products.
The 2017 initiatives included operations High Pressure IV and V (Operação Alta Pressão IV and Operação Alta Pressão V), which inspected firearm and ammunition sale locations. Four other operations were also conducted. Fuse III (Rastilho III) monitored the sale of explosives and related materials. Nitrogen II (Azoto II) oversaw the sale of ammonium nitrate—a chemical that can be used to manufacture explosives. Impact (Impacto) inspected the activities of shooting clubs and marksmen, and Dynamo V (Dínamo V) focused on the explosives manufacturing chain.
According to an analysis COPCON/DFPC produced exclusively for Diálogo, the six operations resulted in a total of 602 legal inspections, eight arrests, and one ban. Officials also seized 11.6 tons of explosives, 41.6 tons of ammonium nitrate, 986 firearms, and 497,746 munitions from among the 3,799 locations inspected. Throughout EB’s 12 regions, 8,557 service members covered up to 545,125 kilometers traveling by land, air, and water.
The two editions of Operation High Pressure 2017 (conducted in May and November) took the lead with 358 legal inspections linked to the lack of product inventory control. “If an establishment has sold 100 firearms, it has to show that number,” Col. Walter said. Once ticketed, the company’s owner has a window of time to justify the situation or show that the issue can be corrected. “If the requirements aren’t met, the shop could be closed. In 2017, all establishments made the requested changes.”
According to Col. Walter, the Controlled Products Inspection Services associated with the 12 military regions scattered across the country served as SIGMA survey sites to check documents, inventory records, and invoices of sales and buyers. “Our men are very rigorous when verifying whether an establishment meets its obligations down to the letter.”
Improved regulation through operations
COPCON/SFPC noted that the two editions of Operation High Pressure 2017 totaled 358 legal inspections—a higher number than the 201 recorded in 2015 and 2016. “This increase does not mean that there are more diversions or greater risks, but rather it’s connected to the larger number of locations inspected,” Col. Walter explained. “In each operation, we see that shortcomings have to do mainly with the difficulty in managing the flow of products and not due to illegal activities.”
The drop in seizures seemingly supports that conclusion. In 2015 and 2016, officials collected 961 firearms and 1,024,452 munitions, but in 2017 the numbers went down to 956 firearms and 496,923 munitions.
Brazil’s biggest challenge, Col. Walter said, resides in firearms illegally entering the country to supply criminal organizations. In such cases, military and civil police—the Federal Police and the Federal Highway Police—carry on the investigation and enforcement. “But increasingly, EB works with them to verify the types of firearms and their origins. It’s highly integrated intelligence work,” he said.
The interagency operations EB conducts in conjunction with other organizations are legacies of the 2014 World Cup that Brazil hosted. “By working together in this exchange, we have more synergy. The benefit to public safety is quite large.” As such, Col. Walter said, the ability to collect and remove firearms and explosives from circulation, which could be used unlawfully, increases. Operation High Pressure V alone included 248 members of other national agencies and organizations.
Explosives create concern
The illegal trade of explosives is a source of concern for the military. Col. Walter noted that between 2016 and 2017, officials seized 18 tons of materials, with 11.6 tons in 2017 alone. Gangs target the large urban centers of the southern and southeastern regions for being home to the largest factories, Col. Walter said. “Criminal organizations that use stolen explosives in bank robberies and other crimes are migrating to the north and northeast of Brazil,” he added.
One of the largest seizures of 2017 supports his words. On November 22, 2017, officials seized half a ton of explosives. The Controlled Products Inspection Service of the 12th Military Region (SFPC/12ª RM, in Portuguese), which covers the states of Amazonas, Acre, Roraima, and Rondônia, conducted the operation—a joint effort with the Explosive Devices Management Group of the Amazonas Military Police. The items were found in a quarry in the city of Presidente Figueiredo, 150 kilometers from Manaus, the capital of Amazonas.
“We were able to seize the opportunity,” EB Colonel Geovani da Silva Campos, head of SFPC/12ª RM, said. The explosives were seized during Operation High Pressure V. In September 2017, SFPC/12ª RM had already seized 2 tons of explosives in Operation Dynamo V. The amount represented more than 60 percent of the 2.8 tons collected in operations throughout the country. Of the 2017 operations, SFPC/12ª RM seized 21 percent of the total amount. “The Amazonas Court of Justice stated that such greater efficiency in the control of these products helps reduce the number of crimes committed using firearms and explosives,” concluded Col. Campos.