The gunning down of two Brazilian traffickers in a Bolivian border department is the latest example of spillover violence wrought by Brazil's two most powerful gangs in their effort to control trafficking routes.
The suspected traffickers, who allegedly belonged to Brazil's First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC), were shot dead within days of each other in late January. The first was killed by two gunmen on a motorcycle in the Bolivian border town of San Matías. The second was shot 11 times on a busy street in the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, the capital of the Santa Cruz department.
The killings were part of a long-running conflict between the PCC and its main rival, the Red Command (Comando Vermelho – CV), according to an official with Bolivia's special anti-drug trafficking military unit (Fuerza Especial de Lucha Contra el Narcotráfico - FELCN). Bolivian authorities have recently maintained a heavy police presence in the eastern department of Santa Cruz, particularly the border town of San Matías.
With a population of 15,000, the town has become a hunting ground in the escalating PCC-CV war, a Bolivian anti-narcotics agent told El Deber. For example, in October 2021, authorities found the body of a CV member buried on a property in San Matías.
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The prolonged violence in Bolivia's Santa Cruz department is due mainly to the border region serving as one of the PCC's primary access points for cocaine.
Sourced in Bolivia's western Chapare region and neighboring Peru, the cocaine is moved to Santa Cruz, where it can then be smuggled into Brazil or Paraguay. Without Santa Cruz, the PCC's ability to cheaply buy vast quantities of cocaine is threatened. The city of Santa Cruz has even become a meeting hub for a powerful PCC confederation known as Narcosur, according to claims made in a recent investigation by Brazil's Estadão news outlet.
The CV has also targeted Santa Cruz to weaken the PCC and take a slice of the drug trade there. Though the gang is already entrenched in the adjacent Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, the group has been weakened of late, thanks to losses in its stronghold of Rio de Janeiro and conflicts in Brazil's northeast and Amazon regions.
Meanwhile, the PCC has been advancing on Mato Grosso from neighboring Mato Grosso do Sul. Santa Cruz also serves as an aerial trafficking hub for the PCC.
However, the Red Command appears unwilling to cede complete control of the region to its rival, which means the Brazilian gang war in Bolivia is likely to remain intractable.