Even without significant investment in border security, weapons and narcotics seizures along Brazil's borders have increased over the last year, giving rise to the possibility that this increase is being driven by underworld dynamics.
According to federal police data, there was a 33.5 percent increase in seizures of arms illegally crossing into the country in 2017, O Globo reported. The majority of the guns were destined for Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo from where many are redistributed across the country.
Ninety-five percent of weapons seizures occurred in the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso do Sul and Paraná, which share a land border with Paraguay where the town of Pedro Juan Caballero has increasingly become a hub of cross-border criminal activity. The remaining five percent were transported by small planes between Bolivia and Paraguay to the interior of São Paulo and Minas Gerais.
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Marijuana and cocaine seizures also rose by 74.1 percent and 39.4 percent respectively. Brazil's domestic market is the second largest consumer of cocaine in the world behind the United States and the country has been increasingly used as a shipping point for narcotics to Europe.
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Despite the recent successful seizures, the Brazilian government has chosen to decrease expenditure on systems designed to monitor the country's border. Sisfron -- a network of sensors that the government is installing to cover Brazil's 17,000 kilometer border by 2022 -- currently covers just four percent of the frontier.
As federal resources are moved away from intercepting weapons and narcotics at the border and instead are focused on endpoint destinations like Rio de Janeiro, the ability of security forces to challenge the development of trafficking routes is suffering some setbacks. To make matters worse, a 2016 change in legislation, which caps the federal budget, effectively prevents new investment in border security without having to reduce spending elsewhere.
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Given the lack of resources, it's not clear what's causing the uptick in seizures. The increase in cross-border seizures comes on the heels of reports that detailed attempts by criminal groups to import weapons into Brazil from Venezuela, taking advantage of the economic and political instability in the country.
Organizations like the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC) have also utilized significant resources to establish a strong presence in neighboring countries like Paraguay to facilitate trafficking. Powerful elites in the Paraguayan government may be directly or indirectly benefiting from the illicit cross-border activities of the organization, decreasing political will on one side of the frontier to combat the issue.
The escalating conflicts between criminal organizations within Brazil, and a national security policy focusing more on the use of strong-arm tactics are driving criminal organizations to arm and train themselves, boosting the demand for weapons from neighboring nations.
Brazil has the third longest land border in the world and shares it with countries that are abundant producers and distributors of weapons, narcotics, and contraband.