Border issues have been much in the news of late.
And those of that perennial favorite, the United States.
It doesn’t often make the front pages of newspapers, even our own, but Brazil is carrying on a war with smugglers – and we’re losing.
I’ll set aside for a moment the trade in human beings (women, boys and girls, for purposes of prostitution, men for the purpose of work).
And I won’t address the theft of cattle, although whole herds are currently being stolen, and driven across the border with Uruguay, just like the old-time rustlers used to do with Mexico.
Today, I’ll just address the smuggling of goods.
The problem begins with the fact that our land borders, like almost everything else in this country, are immense. They total 16,685 kilometers, more than five times the length of the border The United States shares with Mexico.
And they separate us from ten different countries.
Two of those countries, Colombia and Peru, are the world’s largest producers of cocaine.
And one of them has an economy so heavily dependent upon contraband that its value is estimated to be 5 times greater than the country’s GNP.
That country is Paraguay.
With a population of only 7 million, they are the continent’s largest importer of Scotch Whiskey.
Most of it winds up getting drunk by Brazilians.
They have factories that produce more than 65 billion cigarettes a year.
3 million are consumed internally.
The other 62 billion go straight to Brazil where they drain the equivalent of US$ 2.5 billion a year from the tax revenues.
You can walk across the Friendship Bridge, from the Brazilian city of Fóz do Iguaçu to the Paraguayan city of Ciudad del Este, visit any one of the 32 gun shops lined up on the other side, and buy an amazing assortment of illegal arms.
A fully-automatic AK-47 costs less than US$400.
And a Glock .40 can, if you wish, be delivered to you on the Brazilian side of the river within half an hour of purchase.
Such deliveries are usually done by motorbike.
30 of them cross the bridge every minute.
It isn’t only the bridge, though, that the smugglers are using as an entry point.
In one section of the river, a strip scarcely 200 kilometers long, more than 3,000 clandestine ports have been identified by the Brazilian authorities.
Identified, but not controlled.
Partly that’s due to insufficient staffing and inadequate resources.
But it’s also due to corruption.
Many customs agents, and many cops, earn more in bribes than they do in salary.
Gasoline is cheaper in Venezuela than it is in Brazil.
That’s a favored commodity for smugglers in the far north.
Argentinean beef can’t legally be imported into Brazil because of the prevalence of hoof and mouth disease. But it’s a quarter of the price of the Brazilian beef, so that’s a big commodity in the south.
And pharmaceuticals are a popular item all over.
There are a number of factories in Colombia that have become very adept at counterfeiting the packaging of legitimate pharmaceutical manufacturers.
Then they fill those packages with phony medicines composed of wheat flour mixed with bicarbonate of soda and sell it to dishonest Brazilian pharmacists.
Last year, hundreds of tons of the stuff wound up in the hands unwitting Brazilian consumers.
Pesticides, banned for their toxicity, motorcycle helmets bearing the seal of Brazilian safety inspection, but capable of being smashed with one blow of a hammer, electronics of all sorts, software by the truckload, pirated CDs and DVDs in the millions, the list goes on and on.
But the worst of it is the drugs.
Brazil is a major conduit for shipments of cocaine to the United States and Europe.
That’s because we not only have many international airports, where flights go to a plethora of different places, we also have almost 7,500 kilometers of badly-patrolled coastline fronting on the Atlantic Ocean.
And both make it really easy to get the stuff out.
No terrorists as yet, thank goodness.
But, believe me, if there was money in it, we’d be swamped.
Leighton - Monday