HomeNewsAnalysisTracking the Spread of Crack Cocaine in São Paulo and Rio
ANALYSIS

Tracking the Spread of Crack Cocaine in São Paulo and Rio

BRAZIL / 22 MAR 2012 BY CHRISTOPHER LOOFT AND ELYSSA PACHICO EN

The market for crack cocaine is booming in Brazil, and may already be bringing in major profits for organized crime in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

The extent of Brazil’s crack cocaine problem became clear in January 2012, when São Paulo police raided a central neighborhood known colloquially as a “cracolandia,” or crack land. Over 100 people were arrested and around 350 addicts were placed in the care of social services.

Brazil’s next largest city, Rio de Janerio, has also deployed police this year to sweep through “cracolandias,” bringing hundreds into government recovery programs.

Such operations are part of a widening effort to hamper crack distribution and consumption in Brazil, the world’s biggest consumer of cocaine after the United States. And cocaine’s cheaper, more addictive by-product is attracting both the wealthy and the desperately poor in Brazil. According to news website UOL, an estimated 40 percent of crack users in·Rio de Janeiro are believed to belong to the middle class. Police have said that the country now consumes around one ton of crack a day, amounting to some $11 million in profits a day. In the city of Rio de Janeiro alone, the crack trade brings in over $800,000 per month, according to police estimates.

There are some indications that the criminal group most deeply involved in the crack trade is prison gang the First Capital Command (PCC). One top anti-narcotics official has said that the PCC supplies much of the crack cocaine distributed in northeast Brazil, from the group’s homebase in São Paulo. Coca base is reportedly processed in Bolivia and shipped to Paraguay, where it is purchased by the PCC and moved to São Paulo. The PCC processes the base into cocaine, and sells the by-product as crack. Frequently, anyone who buys a cocaine shipment for distribution must also buy a percentage of crack, according to the UOL report. Drug dealers inside Brazil's prison system will then place orders to PCC distributors via cell phones. After the deals are made, the crack is moved by trucks and buses all over the northeast.

Police have also voiced the theory that the PCC is responsible for flooding the Rio de Janeiro city market with crack, supplying it to the region's most powerful criminal group, the Red Command (Comando Vermelho). About 90 percent of Rio's crack is reportedly shipped from São Paulo to the southeastern city of Taubate, then onto Rio via the Dutra highway, the primary road connecting Brazil's largest two cities.

Rio de Janeiro police told news website UOL that they first began seizing significant quantities of crack in 2003. By 2008, as many as ten favelas were suffering from a booming crack trade, all of them controlled by the Red Command. Police seizures increased dramatically, from just 14 pounds seized in 2008 to nearly 200 pounds seized in 2010. According to anti-narcotics agency the DCOD, the number of crack addicts in the city doubled during a 16-month period between 2009 and 2010.

The Red Command is so strongly associated with Rio's crack trade that rival gangs in the city's favelas, including the Friends of Friends (Amigos dos Amigos - ADA) and the Pure Third Command (Terceiro Comando Puro), have tried to disassociate themselves from the business. In one Rio de Janeiro neighborhood, UOL notes, the Pure Third Command hung a banner at the entrance to a favela they controlled, reading "Here we do not sell crack." On one hand, this may be a ploy to shore up support from local communities hit hard by the crack epidemic. But it is more likely that these groups refused to begin peddling crack out of concern that the cheaper drug could drain profits from their cocaine sales.

The militia-controlled favelas in Rio have also reportedly banned the sale of crack. Nor is the drug sold in the favelas which house the community police force units known as the UPP, according to UOL.

The federal government has already promised $2 billion in aid to fight the spread of crack cocaine across Brazil. A successful strategy would likely have to involve breaking up the PCC's control of the business in São Paulo and the northeast, as well as the Red Command's monopoly in Rio de Janeiro. For now, there are plenty of alarm bells indicating that the crack market can only grow larger.

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

BRAZIL / 1 OCT 2018

Brazil is just days away from the first round of this year's general election, and rising crime and security will…

BRAZIL / 11 NOV 2019

Female members of a cell of Brazil’s violent PCC prison gang ordered and carried out the killing of another woman,…

BRAZIL / 27 MAR 2018

A new report says that a lack of regulation of private security companies in Latin America is having negative impacts…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela Drug Trafficking Investigation and InDepth Gender Coverage

29 APR 2022

On May 4, InSight Crime will be publishing The Cocaine Revolution in Venezuela, a groundbreaking investigation into how the Venezuelan government regulates the cocaine trade in the country. An accompanying event,…

THE ORGANIZATION

InDepth Coverage of Juan Orlando Hernández

22 APR 2022

Ever since Juan Orlando Hernández was elected president of Honduras in 2014, InSight Crime has provided coverage of every twist and turn during his rollercoaster time in office, amid growing…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela's Cocaine Revolution

15 APR 2022

On May 4th, InSight Crime will publish a groundbreaking investigation on drug trafficking in Venezuela. A product of three years of field research across the country, the study uncovers cocaine production in…

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Widespread Coverage of InSight Crime MS13 Investigation

8 APR 2022

In a joint investigation with La Prensa Gráfica, InSight Crime recently revealed that four of the MS13’s foremost leaders had been quietly released from…

THE ORGANIZATION

Informing US State Department and European Union

1 APR 2022

InSight Crime Co-director McDermott briefed the US State Department and other international players on the presence of Colombian guerrillas in Venezuela and the implication this has for both nations.  McDermott…