Mato Grosso do Sul is among Brazil’s most strategic states for transnational crime.
All manner of smuggling takes place in the seven cities scattered along the state’s extensive border with Paraguay . Mato Grosso do Sul is the main entry point for marijuana entering Brazil and one of the country’s most important gateways for cocaine and contraband. These dynamics stretch to the state’s border with Bolivia.
The state is key territory for the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC) and, to a lesser extent, the Red Command (Comando Vermelho – CV) – two major criminal organizations that control the drug routes connecting the border area to major consumption hubs and international ports in Brazil’s coastal cities.
First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC): After São Paulo, Mato Grosso do Sul is the most important state for the PCC’s criminal activities. Here, the gang is trying to become hegemonic. The PCC is in control of arms and narcotics trafficking from Paraguay. There are also signs that the group wants to expand into cigarette smuggling. With over six thousand members, the PCC’s presence is concentrated in Coronel Sapucaia and Ponta Porã – its main stronghold. The group also has a strong presence in Corumbá, in the north of the state, where cocaine-laden planes sent from Paraguay land in Brazil. The PCC also has a strong influence inside prisons on the Brazil-Paraguay border. In January 2020, 76 prisoners escaped from a jail in Pedro Juan Caballero, the Paraguayan city in front of Ponta Porã, reportedly aided by corrupt guards.
Red Command (Comando Vermelho – CV): The Red Command has a permanent presence in Mato Grosso do Sul. Along with the PCC, the CV is one of the state’s most powerful criminal organizations, especially in the border region. However, the group’s presence in and around Pedro Juan Caballero has purportedly been weakened due to the presence of the PCC. Still, the arrest of Levi Adriani Felicio, an alleged drug supplier for both organizations, suggests that the CV still has criminal influence in Mato Grosso do Sul. Territory is reportedly divided between the two groups, with the CV operating in Coronel Sapucaia and further south. The group mainly traffics marijuana. In Paranhos, there is an on-going conflict between the two groups.
Pavão Clan: The presence of this Brazilian-Paraguayan family is mainly limited to the Pedro Juan Caballero-Ponta Porã twin-city border region. The group has had an off-and-on relationship with the PCC, as the two compete for this lucrative drug trafficking corridor.
Arms Trafficking: There are seven identified entry points for illicit firearms smuggled into Mato Grosso do Sul from Paraguay – Corumbá, Ponta Porã, Paranhos, Coronel Sapucaia, Bela Vista, Sete Quedas and Mundo Novo. The state is primarily a transit and distribution point for illicit weapons bound for other parts of Brazil, where the firearms can be sold for a higher price. These include São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Bahia and Rio Grande do Norte. Still, the arms trafficking economy could be worth tens of millions of dollars per year given the steady flow of weapons.
Cocaine: Mato Grosso do Sul is a hub for cocaine trafficking, thanks to its borders with Paraguay and Bolivia, as well as an established distribution network within the state. It is also a transit point for cocaine headed to São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Bahia. This illegal economy is arguably the largest in the state, reaching into the hundreds of millions of dollars per year in earnings for transporters and local drug peddlers who sell powder and crack cocaine.
Cannabis: Mato Grosso do Sul, bordering Paraguay, is at the center of a regional marijuana-smuggling route. Criminal organizations smuggle in cheap marijuana from Paraguay and sell it for a higher price in Brazil. Albeit smaller than the cocaine market, this criminal economy could still be worth in the hundreds of millions of dollars per year between transport and local sales.
Environmental Crime: Endangered species are trafficked from jungles in Mato Grosso do Sul, especially those located in the Pantanal region, for sale as pets. The most commonly trafficked animals are birds, notably parrots and macaws. Based on seizure data, this criminal economy may be worth over a million dollars per year.
Human trafficking: Mato Grosso do Sul is a known recruitment and transit point for human trafficking victims bound for other parts of Brazil. Victims often come from Bolivia and Paraguay. In border cities, criminal groups operate sex trafficking rings and a number of minors reportedly work in exploitative labor conditions. Authorities do not seem to engage with the issue and do not possess useful data on the criminal economy.
Contraband: Contraband is widespread in Mato Grosso do Sul and is largely tolerated. Sentences for contraband smuggling are much lower than for other criminal economies, making it a safer and more attractive criminal activity. Cigarettes are the most commonly trafficked goods on the state’s border.
Sources: This profile is based on a field investigation in Campo Grande, Dorados and Ponta Porä, all in Mato Grosso do Sul, and two trips to São Paulo where InSight Crime interviewed representatives of the Attorney General’s Office, a national police investigation unit, a national anti-organized crime division, federal police, and local journalists, most of whom requested anonymity. InSight Crime also drew from information provided by Brazil’s Public Security Forum, O Globo, and local press.