HomeBrazilRio Grande do Sul, Brazil
BRAZIL

Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil

COCAINE / 4 MAR 2021 BY INSIGHT CRIME EN

Strategically located between Argentina and Uruguay, Rio Grande do Sul is a hub for contraband and drug smuggling.

Brazil’s southernmost state houses the country’s largest dry port, on the border with Argentina, responsible for 90 percent of national exports to the Southern Common Market (Mercado Común del Sur – MERCOSUR).

Contraband and marijuana from Paraguay also transit through Rio Grande do Sul on the way to Uruguay. Cocaine, meanwhile, is smuggled in from Argentina or enters the state from Santa Catarina. Porto Alegre, a port city in Rio Grande do Sul, provides drug cartels with a gateway to the European market.

Criminal Actors

Os Manos: Os Manos are the most important criminal organization in Rio Grande do Sul. The group is divided into different cells which operate with a degree of independence but are ultimately led by four leaders present in different parts of the state. The group has its strongest presence in Novo Hamburgo, Sapuranga, and the Sierra Gaucho region. These regions are strategic for Os Manos from a business perspective. The group could have as many as 10,000 members.

Bala na Cara: Bala na Cara (Bullet in the Face) is the second most prominent criminal group in Rio Grande do Sul. The group is known for its gratuitous violence and control of the drug trade in Porto Alegre. The gang’s cells are present in various parts of the state, albeit less so than in Porto Alegre. In addition to trafficking cocaine and marijuana, the group controls the supply of crack in prisons.

Antibala: Antibala wants to position itself as a criminal rival of the Bala na Cara. The group controls some drug retail points in Porto Alegre, but they do not have a strong foothold in the state.

First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC): In Rio Grande do Sul, the PCC is mainly a supplier of drugs and weapons for Os Manos. The two groups have allegedly established an operational alliance for the supply of drugs and weapons. The PCC has around 700 recruits in the southwest of Rio Grande do Sul, where it controls part of the cocaine-smuggling routes entering Brazil from Paraguay. State and federal authorities are concerned about the possible expansion of Os Manos and the PCC into Uruguay and the port of Montevideo. Although the presence of local criminal structures has stopped the PCC from establishing hegemonic control in the state, the group has nonetheless become one of the most relevant criminal actors in Rio Grande do Sul.

Los Abertos: Los Abertos was born as a dissident group, formed by members of Bala na Cara. The group peddles drugs in some areas of Porto Alegre and has a minor presence in the city’s central prison. Still, it is a small criminal organization, only active in some neighborhoods.

Criminal Economies

Arms Trafficking: In 2019, authorities seized a total of 4,123 firearms in Rio Grande do Sul, with an estimated value of approximately $9 million. The seizures illustrate that the market is sizeable, possibly worth tens of millions in sales per year.

Cocaine: In 2019, authorities seized 1,352 kilograms of cocaine in Rio Grande do Sul, worth an estimated $5.8 million. Though it is hard to tell what proportion of the drug was destined for local consumption, as opposed to transit, the seizures indicate a sizeable and vibrant market that could be in the tens of millions of dollars.

Cannabis: In 2019, authorities seized 9.81 tons of marijuana in Rio Grande do Sul, worth an estimated $1.9 million. The seizures indicate a large local market, which although considerably less than the cocaine market, would still reach into the millions of dollars in revenue per year for local criminal groups.

Environmental Crime: Rio Grande do Sul houses diverse flora and fauna species, many in danger of extinction. Animals are trafficked for sale on the local pet market – notably birds, reptiles and fish. Still, the eco-trafficking economy is small, probably in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Human Trafficking: Sex trafficking is the main form of human trafficking in Rio Grande do Sul, mostly affecting women and girls. Victims are recruited in the state or brought from other countries in the region, such as Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina. However, there is minimal information on how the involved criminal groups operate or the size of the criminal market.

Human Smuggling: There appears to be some degree of human smuggling in Rio Grande do Sul, but there is insufficient available information to determine how the involved groups operate, or the value of this criminal economy.

Contraband: Contraband is a major business in Rio Grande do Sul, particularly on the border with Argentina. There, Brazil’s largest dry port concentrates 90 percent of national exports to MERCOSUR countries. Contraband from Paraguay also transits through Rio Grande do Sul, mostly bound for Uruguay. Paraguayan cigarettes, destined for the Brazilian market, are among the most commonly smuggled items through the state.

Sources: This profile is based on a field investigation in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, and two trips to São Paulo where InSight Crime interviewed representatives of the Attorney General’s Office, Brazil’s Special Action Group for the Suppression of Organized Crime, a national anti-organized crime division, local authorities, federal police anti-money laundering agents, and local journalists, most of whom requested anonymity. InSight Crime also drew from information provided by Brazil's Public Security Forum, O Globo, Correio do Povo, and local press.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

CONTRABAND / 29 APR 2011

The head of one of Mexico’s most important business federations said recently that piracy and contraband represented a $74 billion…

COCAINE / 17 APR 2019

It is abundantly clear, given decades of trial and error and escalating scientific evidence, that prohibition only makes risky drug use even riskier.

BRAZIL / 14 JAN 2021

The reported leader of the PCC in Paraguay, known as “Bonitão,” has been extradited back to Brazil after a tumultuous…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Emergency First Aid in Hostile Environments

24 SEP 2021

At InSight Crime's annual treat, we ramped up hostile environment and emergency first aid training for our 40-member staff, many of whom conduct on-the-ground investigations in dangerous corners of the region.

THE ORGANIZATION

Series on Environmental Crime in the Amazon Generates Headlines

17 SEP 2021

InSight Crime and the Igarapé Institute have been delighted at the response to our joint investigation into environmental crimes in the Colombian Amazon. Coverage of our chapters dedicated to illegal mining…

THE ORGANIZATION

Exploring Climate Change and Organized Crime

10 SEP 2021

In July, InSight Crime Co-director Steven Dudley moderated a panel for the Climate Reality Project's regional series of workshops for young climate activists in the Americas. The week-long event…

THE ORGANIZATION

Gearing Up a New Class of Interns

3 SEP 2021

InSight Crime is readying its newest class of interns – from universities in Europe and the Americas – to begin investigative work on a number of high-impact projects. For the…

THE ORGANIZATION

Tracking Environmental Crime in the Amazon

27 AUG 2021

Next week, InSight Crime launches an investigation – conducted with Brazilian think-tank the Igarapé Institute – on the sophisticated organized crime structures and armed groups that…