CURITIBA, Brazil – The state of Paraná, which is on the Paraguayan border, has emerged as a narco-trafficking corridor because of its many highways providing access to Southeastern Brazil.
“Narcotics traffickers enter the country by crossing the border, most of them trying to take products to São Paulo,” says Ricardo Schneider, the chief-inspector of the Federal Highway Police (PRF) of Foz do Iguaçu, a city located on the triple-border region of Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina.
The PRF in Paraná has seized 4.6 tons of narcotics this year, accounting for 46% of the 11 tons of drugs seized nationwide.
The PRF also has seized 52 tons of marijuana in the state of Paraná in the past year, including a bust in July 2010 that included 21.5 tons of the drug. The marijuana seizures in Paraná account for more than 50% of the 90 tons of marijuana confiscated by law enforcement agents nationwide in 2010.
As Paraguay has many marijuana plantations, the drug traffickers try to enter Brazil through the city of Foz do Iguaçu, in Paraná state, Schneider says.
That’s why the Federal Police’s (PF) major precinct in Brazil is located in Foz do Iguaçu.
“The triangle formed by Foz do Iguaçu, Guaíra and Cascavel receives huge investments from the federal government,” says Marcos Koren, a PF agent who has worked on the border with Paraná for 14 years. “We work with motorboats, vessels and now with an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), which overflies the region seeking drug traffickers.”
But marijuana isn’t the only narcotic seized by the PRF in Paraná.
The PRF has confiscated 312 kilograms (686 pounds) of crack in Paraná, which is more than double the amount seized during the same period in 2009. Law enforcement agents have seized 568 kilograms (1,249 pounds) of crack nationwide this year.
In the state of São Paulo, which is considered a big market for narcotics, no more than 178 kilograms (391 pounds) of crack has been seized.
In 2010, the PRF confiscated almost a ton of crack nationwide, including 546 kilograms (1,201 pounds) seized in Paraná.
Authorities strive to combat crack
Officials have made stopping the escalating use of crack throughout Brazil one of their top priorities in their fight against narcotics.
Crack, which is derived from cocaine, can be smoked or injected directly into the bloodstream. The body quickly absorbs the drug and sends the toxins directly to the brain, making crack one of the most addictive drugs in the world.
“Crack causes major damages to society,” says Riad Braga Farhat, an officer of the State Narcotics Division (DENARC). “It destroys families and keeps the user outside the labor market.”
Last year, Federal Police seized more than 17 kilograms of crack in the Foz do Iguaçu/Cataratas International Airport.
The seizure – the second-largest in the country in 2010 – led to the apprehension of 11 supposed “mules,” who were trying to transport the drug in suitcases with false bottoms and inside the soles of shoes.
And seven of the suspects had swallowed the drug, which they planned to deliver in Belgium, Spain, France, Portugal and Switzerland.
“We succeeded in Paraná, but the fight [against drug trafficking] will never end,” Farhat says.
The “vicious circle” in drug trafficking worries Pedro Bodê, the coordinator of Studies in Public Security and Human Rights at the Federal University of Paraná.
The reason? Because as soon as law enforcement agents have success in stopping one kind of narcotic, a new one surfaces, Bodê says.
“That happens because the drug that is being stopped is replaced by another one, more powerful and cheaper – as happened with crack and now with a new drug, oxi,” he says. “Police units’ work must be backed by other strategies. Drugs must be treated more like an education and public health issue.”
Schneider acknowledges officials can’t take days off if they are to win the fight against narcotics.
“Drug traffickers migrate when they begin to find too much resistance,” Schneider says. “We always need to pay attention to the changes and improve.”
Wilson Martines, a PRF inspector in Paraná, attributes the state’s success in its fight against narcotics to the training police officers receive.
“Besides having good training, they develop that kind of [instinct] that allows them to suspect certain situations,” Martines says. “Those professionals account for 50% of the success [in the operations].”
Martines said the remaining 50% is attributed to the advancements made in technology, intelligence and other resources, like the use of drug-sniffing dogs.
But communication and interaction among the security forces, especially the Military and Federal Police and PRF, are also critical for success.
“Drug trafficking develops more easily when security forces work separately,” Schneider says. “We have to share information.”