Monday, June 13, 2011

Brazil’s Borders

Border issues have been much in the news of late.
And those of that perennial favorite, the United States.

But, although you folks may never have heard about them, we, too, have our problems.

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


  1. Plots and more plots for you Leighton. ;o)

  2. First, although I doubt it is true of the people who read this blog, most Americans are geographically illiterate so they have no idea of the size of Brazil.

    Cocaine and Columbia are synonymous in the United States. Most Americans have no idea that cocaine comes from anywhere other than Columbia through Mexico.

    I think what is happening in Brazil is a sort of terrorism. That it isn't dramatic doesn't mean it isn't insidious. How many people die each year from tainted or counterfeited pharmaceutical drugs? Counterfeit cancer treatments, heart medication, or blood thinners is murder without menace but it is murder just the same.

    The availability of guns or weapons of any sort bring menace back into the picture. How many of the weapons end up in the hands of the enforcers in the drug cartels? Cocaine is murder in slow motion.

    The loss of tax revenue from the sale of cigarettes and alcohol seems like a victimless crime unless one considers how that money could/should be spent on programs for the people of Brazil, espcially considering the poverty in the country. How much food, medical services, and education programs could be funded by $2.5 billion US? Combined, that kills hope, opportunity, and talent for generations of the children of the poor.

    Brazil's porous borders and the inability of the people of the US to see beyond Columbia as a source of street drugs allows Brazil to reap profits while escaping the attention of American drug enforcement agencies. The US can't handle what is coming in from Mexico along a much smaller border than Brazilian has. The war on drugs is failure agaisnt one country.

    Unfortunately, controlling any vice, and the smuggling of human beings needs a word much stronger than vice, is impossible because of addictions on the part of the buyers and greed on the part of the sellers. I think there is a special circle of hell for people who make money by destroying the lives of others, especially children.

  3. What strikes me is how eternal this is. Wonderful beauty, and so much darkness. The fodder for books, it seems.

  4. A fellow researcher of mine on Paraguay at the great New York Public Library said in a recent lecture that there are Islamist organizations with operants in and around Ciudad del Este. My husband and I drove through there on our way from Encarnacion,Paraguay to Iguasu and wondered what a city that big was doing there, in what looked like the middle of no where. By chance, from that lecture and this post, I found out!

  5. Norman, Please see my remark to Annamaria.

    Beth, Thanks, as always, for your comments. You are one of the stars of our blog, and we all delight in having your contributions.

    Lil, You and Norman (Uriah) think alike. Great minds, etc., etc.

    Annamaria, I have a confession to make. I am so very well informed on the border question specifically because I have been researching the Islamic organizations in the Tri-Border Area. Everything you have heard is true. And "Perfect Hatred" my Silva entry for 2012 will have a lot to say about it. The presence of those people is one of the sub-plots.

  6. Would you finish the book and get it out there already? I'm dying to hear how all this comes out! Fascinating and Fearsome. As always.