Authorities in Bolivia and Brazil will enter into a bilateral agreement later this month aimed at combating the expansion of Brazilian criminal groups into Bolivia, but the move might prove to be a tardy and ultimately insufficient response to this phenomenon.
Starting July 26, four high-ranking Brazilian police officers will be stationed in the Bolivian cities of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Puerto Suárez, Guayaramerín and Cobija to coordinate everyday security operations with Bolivian police forces, El Deber reported.
Bolivia has been pushing for this bilateral exchange for three years, according to El Deber, while Brazil has wanted to confirm the presence of Brazilian crime groups in Bolivia first. But after an attack on a jewelry store in eastern Bolivia July 13 that left five dead, three of whom were allegedly linked to Brazil's First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital - PCC), officials said the move was immediately initiated. However, there is some disagreement about whether this attack actually involved the PCC.
SEE ALSO: Bolivia News and Profile
Marcio Christiano, a prosecutor in the PCC's home city of São Paulo, told El Deber that the crime group did not participate in the jewelry store heist, and that their presence in Bolivia is primarily linked to drug trafficking, explaining that Bolivia is one of Brazil's "natural partners" for cocaine production in South America.
Bolivia Deputy Minister for Social Defense Felipe Cáceres seemed to echo these statements, and told El Deber that the PCC is primarily involved in drug trafficking activities and decided to migrate into Bolivia to expand their power and control over that industry.
In addition to the PCC, which is thought to have the strongest foreign criminal presence in Bolivia with an estimated 1,500 members, Bolivian authorities have identified two other Brazilian criminal groups operating in Bolivia: the Red Command (Comando Vermelho) and Family of the North (Família do Norte - FDN). The Red Command and FDN have since allied against the PCC to dispute the latter's control, according to El Deber.
However, Bolivian Interior Minister Carlos Romero recently said that Brazilian crime groups are "sharing territorial control" in Bolivia, pointing to conflicting assessments of the relationships among these groups. The FDN and the Red Command have been aligned in a broader war with the PCC that rocked Brazil's prison system earlier this year with a wave of extreme violence.
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While increased bilateral cooperation is a step in the right direction, it is unlikely to be a gamechanger in the short term as the dynamics of Brazilian crime groups in Bolivia are not fully understood.
Kathryn Ledebur, the executive director of the Andean Information Network (AIN), told InSight Crime that there is not enough information available about the PCC in Bolivia to draw any firm conclusions about its operations there, adding that the "drug trade in and through Bolivia tends to be quite decentralized" and that it has not generally led to "violent competition to control routes or territory."
SEE ALSO: PCC News and Profile
On the other hand, there is a long history of collaboration between Brazilian and Bolivian crime groups on contraband smuggling, and some experts believe this dynamic has intensified recently. Eduardo Gamarra, a political science professor at Florida International University, told InSight Crime he feels that the planned boost in bilateral efforts will not be enough to deter the PCC from expanding their operations in Bolivia, estimating the gang's presence to be much larger than the 1,500 estimated by Bolivian officals.
"The number [of PCC members in Bolivia] is probably much higher than Bolivian authorities are willing to recognize, [and] involves more than simple foot soldiers, maybe even mid- and top-level decision makers," Gamarra told InSight Crime.