New details have emerged about the sophisticated criminal operations of a Red Command leader who once operated in the Argentina-Brazil border region. Such isolated incidents, however, are not an indication that the Brazilian crime group has a significant presence in neighboring Argentina. 

Marino Di Valdo Pinto de Brum, who has used the alias Silvio André de Lima Borges and was also known as “El Brasilero” or “Patrón,” has been accused of being one of Brazil’s biggest drug traffickers and money launderers, according to a report from La Nación based on court documents from an extensive investigation carried out by Brazilian authorities.

He was also a close associate of former Comando Vermelho (Red Command) leader Fernandinho Beira Mar.

For almost a decade, up until his August 2017 arrest in southern Brazil, Brum headed a transnational drug trafficking operation along the Argentina-Brazil border, authorities said. Before fleeing the region to evade capture, Brum’s base of operations was in Uruguaiana, a municipality in Brazil’s Rio Grande do Sul state that hugs the Uruguay River forming the border with Argentina.

Here, small planes arrived loaded with Bolivian cocaine. Brum’s network transported the drugs east across the country to Palmares Do Sul in Rio Grande do Sul state, just outside Puerto Alegre, and then on to Puerto Santos, where the drugs were then smuggled on ships presumably en route to consumers in Europe, according to La Nación.

SEE ALSO: Red Command Profile

Further north up the Uruguay River, Brum also reportedly operated a large ranch spanning some 7,400 hectares on the Argentine side of the border in the city of Santo Tomé in Corrientes province. The ranch was outfitted with an airstrip and hangar to house the planes arriving with cocaine from Bolivia, according to authorities. 

An agricultural producer by the name of María Hilda Calabrese leased the land to Brum. When Argentine authorities eventually raided the ranch, they found a Cessna plane, a tanker capable of storing 1,500 liters of jet fuel and 330 kilograms of cocaine hidden in a trailer, according to La Nación.

In 2017, Calabrese was sentenced to 20 years in prison for drug crimes.

Investigators say Brum also operated a vast money laundering operation, which reportedly continued to wash illicit money even after his arrest. The group created hundreds of bank accounts and front companies, ranging from agricultural production to currency exchanges, to move drug proceeds through Uruguay and even China, according to La Nación.

InSight Crime Analysis

The scale and sophistication of Brum’s operations on the Argentina-Brazil border on behalf of the Red Command is undeniable. That said, the Rio de Janeiro-based crime gang — or any Brazilian group, for that matter — does not appear to have made significant inroads into Argentina since.

While there have been reports of Brazilians with suspected links to the Red Command operating in Argentina this year, nothing so far suggests the group has established a true operational presence, as they have in Paraguay.

To be sure, Argentine authorities announced in August 2020 that they were investigating alleged Red Command member Jimmy Medina Ávila. He reportedly fled Brazil for Argentina in February this year after Brazilian authorities sought his arrest for drug trafficking and for robbing several jewelry stores, La Nación reported. In Argentina, Ávila has been linked to a series of robberies in the metropolitan area just outside the city of Buenos Aires.

SEE ALSO: Argentina News and Profile

Other Brazilian nationals arrested for trafficking drugs in Argentina — primarily marijuana — have not had any links to the Red Command or any other Brazilian crime group. In early August 2020, the National Gendarmerie intercepted a truck transporting 760 kilograms of marijuana hidden in a load of printing paper. The Brazilian driver had entered from Foz de Iguazú in the Tri-Border Area (TBA), a smuggling hub where Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay meet. The truck was en route to the province of Córdoba in central Argentina.

A former top-level anti-drug official in Argentina recently told InSight Crime that thus far, Brazilian crime groups like the Red Command and First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital — PCC), the powerful São Paulo-based group, only have “proxies” operating in Argentina. The groups don’t actually occupy any physical territory, the official said. 

Indeed, in May 2020, Argentina’s National Gendarmerie arrested the driver of a vehicle armed with a Glock 9mm pistol. A year earlier, the Argentine national had been linked to supplying weapons to both the Red Command and the PCC, according to officials. After stopping the car near the Argentina-Paraguay border, authorities went on to search the driver’s home, where they found an M-16 semi-automatic rifle, a shotgun, ammunition and federal police uniforms. Four others were arrested.

Authorities later revealed that the individuals were allegedly the local contacts of a band of Brazilian hitmen linked to the PCC. With a local drug trafficker imprisoned in Argentina, the network was reportedly coordinating the murder of an Argentine judge, according to Clarín. The murder plot never came to fruition.

Argentina’s strategic location and growing consumer market have made it a major transshipment point for illegal drugs, as well as the global arms trade. But while the PCC and Red Command have both maintained a presence in neighboring Paraguay to coordinate drug shipments, arms trafficking and other criminal activity, they have yet to penetrate Argentina in the same way.

For now, the operations of Brazilian crime groups here appear to be largely logistical and confined to the strategic northern border region. That said, it would come as little surprise if such groups soon took advantage of the entrenched corruption and impunity in Argentina to push further into the Southern Cone nation, as they already have in Paraguay.

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