HomeNewsHow COVID-19 Reshaped Cocaine and Marijuana Trafficking in Brazil 
NEWS

How COVID-19 Reshaped Cocaine and Marijuana Trafficking in Brazil 

BRAZIL / 1 AUG 2022 BY SCOTT MISTLER-FERGUSON AND CHRIS DALBY EN

Brazil’s cocaine and marijuana markets were not immune to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, but a recent report shows how drug traffickers quickly adapted to the new reality to keep their products flowing.

A July report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) laid out how cocaine and marijuana trafficking in Brazil was affected by the impact of lockdown measures, the resulting economic downturn, state responses, and new criminal opportunities.

Here, InSight Crime breaks down the short- and long-term ramifications for drug flows through Brazil.

Marijuana Up, Cocaine Down

While marijuana seizures increased consistently throughout the pandemic, the overall quantity of cocaine seized nationwide temporarily decreased, albeit with regional variations.

From April 2020 to March 2021, marijuana seizures grew by 107 percent year-on-year, reaching almost 600 tons. In contrast, cocaine seizures dropped by about 20 percent. While a more significant number of individual seizures were reported, the average amount of cocaine involved in each stop plummeted, accounting for an overall quantitative drop.

There were likely several reasons for this. Firstly, the UNODC report noted that the flow of marijuana from Paraguay into Brazil "increased dramatically, likely as a consequence of reduced eradication activities and difficulties in cross-border collaboration."

A parallel report carried out by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) showed that, while cocaine traffickers took to the skies to circumvent border closures, marijuana smugglers headed for remote areas. According to the UNDP, in the north of Brazil, the cities of Pacaraima and Boa Vista were entry points for Colombian marijuana, arriving by boat through Venezuelan waterways. And in the south, the state of Rio Grande do Sul saw the emergence of new trafficking clusters in 2020 that were not present in 2019, as marijuana from Paraguay was brought across.

SEE ALSO: Why Did Latin America's Drug Trade Thrive During Covid-19?

Land Border Closures Led to More Drug Flights

Traditional methods of entry for cocaine into Brazil were disrupted early during the pandemic. The UNODC noted that, while cocaine production was high in Bolivia and Peru in 2019 and 2020, closures of land and water borders primarily through Paraguay meant that flights became the immediate fallback option.

"An increased flow of cocaine into the western border areas of Brazil shortly after the onset of COVID-19 seems to have been enabled...by traffickers increasingly resorting to clandestine flights to transport cocaine into Brazil," read the report.

However, these flights seem to have been predominantly short-hop affairs, as the states where seizures increased the most were Mato Grosso do Sul and Paraná, which both border Paraguay.

This shift does not appear to have tipped the balance of power within Brazil's drug trafficking landscape. The country's leading gangs were best positioned to shift their routes and trafficking methods.

For example, the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC) could afford to make the jump from cocaine trafficking via land routes to a greater reliance on clandestine aircraft. São Paulo prosecutor, Lincoln Gakiya, told the financial newspaper, Valor Econômico, that the PCC had bought "helicopters and small planes that can carry 400 kilos to 500 kilos of [cocaine]" from Bolivia and Paraguay.

As such, he explained, the closure of the Brazil-Paraguay border "did not cause them much problems."

SEE ALSO: Aircraft Theft Across Latin America Continues to Fuel Drug Trade

Smaller Ports Take On Larger Roles

The UNODC report highlighted how, due to higher scrutiny at major seaports and greater demand for cocaine in Europe, Brazilian traffickers increased their use of smaller seaports.

"The diversification [of ports] had been observed before the pandemic but became particularly prominent during its course, and was especially visible in terms of the destination countries of cocaine trafficked from Brazilian ports," read the report.

While the country's largest port, Santos, near São Paulo, remained a mainstay for cocaine flows, other options to the north and south became increasingly popular. From 2019 to 2022, the southern port of Paranaguá in the state of Paraná, was commonly used to send cocaine to Europe by a group connected to the Calabrian Mafia in Italy. After its first-ever cocaine seizure in 2019, the port of Natal in the northeast of the country became a mainstay for sending the drug to the Netherlands. And the colossal drug operation of Sergio Roberto de Carvalho, one of Brazil's largest-ever drug traffickers, used any port available in Brazil to move dozens of tons of cocaine to Europe.

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

COCAINE / 6 JAN 2021

An Israeli national suspected of ties to Japanese and Israeli mafia groups has been accused of running drug trafficking, money…

ARGENTINA / 29 JAN 2021

While unrest gripped much of Latin America in 2019, it was the coronavirus that took center stage and ripped through…

CACHIROS / 16 APR 2021

A string of bumper cocaine seizures on the Honduras Atlantic has provided a stark reminder of the region's importance in…

About InSight Crime

WORK WITH US

Open Position: Full Stack WordPress Developer

28 NOV 2022

As Full Stack WordPress Developer You Will: Work collaboratively with other developers and designers to maintain and improve organizational standards.Demonstrate a high level of attention to detail, and implement best…

THE ORGANIZATION

Join Us This #GivingTuesday in Exposing Organized Crime

24 NOV 2022

For over twelve years, InSight Crime has contributed to the global dialogue on organized crime and corruption. Our work has provided policymakers, analysts, academics, journalists, and the general public with…

THE ORGANIZATION

Like Crime, Our Coverage Knows No Borders

18 NOV 2022

The nature of global organized crime means that while InSight Crime focuses on Latin America, we also follow criminal dynamics worldwide. InSight Crime investigator Alessandro Ford covers the connections between Latin American and European…

THE ORGANIZATION

Using Data to Expose Crime

11 NOV 2022

Co-director Jeremy McDermott made a virtual presentation at a conference hosted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The ‘Sixth International Conference on Governance, Crime, and Justice…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime ON AIR

4 NOV 2022

InSight Crime Co-director Steven Dudley was interviewed for the podcast The Rosenberg Case: A Tale of Murder, Corruption, and Conspiracy in Guatemala, which explores the potential involvement of then president, Álvaro Colom,…