Onboard a European sailboat, Brazilian authorities made a record seizure of marijuana resin, also known as hashish, appearing to confirm the existence of a small but steady trans-Atlantic drug route heading to Brazil.
On June 16, the Brazilian Navy discovered 4.3 metric tons of hashish on a sailboat traveling from Portugal while it crossed international waters about 420 kilometers from the northern port city of Recife.
Hashish, a brown compressed solid with a higher psychoactive potency than herbal marijuana, is a recent addition to Brazil’s drug market. Along with South America in general, the country has had little experience with the drug mostly produced in North Africa, especially Morocco.
The last comparable seizure was in January 2019, when Brazilian authorities seized over two tons of hashish and arrested two Portuguese men in the coastal state of Ceará.
But over the last year, hashish traffickers have reportedly established a maritime route from Africa to Brazil, often exploiting the drug’s higher value in the region to swap it for cocaine, according to a recent article by Spain’s El Confidencial, citing Spanish law enforcement.
Brazilian Federal Police stated that the seizure "confirms the existence of a transcontinental maritime hashish traffic route to Brazil, through which large quantities of drug shipments would transit."
The size of Brazil's market for hashish is uncertain, however. On the one hand, foreign imports, combined with emerging production in Paraguay, indicate a steady, wealthy client base willing to pay a high price, with hashish reportedly sold for triple the price of marijuana.
On the other hand, evidence of wider usage remains scarce. In an interview with InSight Crime, Christian Azevedo, a senior police official currently seconded to the Department of Justice and Public Security in Minas Gerais, said "consumption is not very high at all [and] I haven’t seen any evidence that hashish trafficking has been growing in Brazil [recently]."
InSight Crime Analysis
The emergence of a trans-Atlantic hashish trafficking route from North Africa and Europe to Brazil, often via West Africa, represents an interesting criminal development in Brazil.
Most importantly, it displays a new drug exchange system: hashish-for-cocaine. While "kilo-per-kilo" prices in Brazil are still skewed towards cocaine, the difference can be close to negligible, according to June 2021 article by Spain's El Día.
“A kilo of hashish directly in Morocco can cost 300 euros per kilo; in the [Canary Islands], the price during this semester is 1,980 euros per kilo…in the United States, it was [once] 3,000 euros per kilo," the outlet cites a Spanish drug official as saying.
In late-2020, Spanish authorities arrested an alleged Bulgarian drug trafficker, Dimitar Mitrin, who had reportedly grown rich on this system, using spots in West Africa to swap hashish for cocaine, according to Spanish media, as well as arranging transports of hashish directly to Brazil.
“My opinion is that [in the case of this recent seizure, the traffickers] were bringing hashish to Brazil to sell it to offset the costs of buying cocaine to ship to Europe,” Christian Azevedo told InSight Crime.
More broadly, these trans-Atlantic hashish imports may point to a minor diversification of Brazil's infamously large marijuana market, which consumes vast quantities of the drug from Paraguay.