Ongoing seizures of cocaine trafficked from Brazil to Mozambique continue to highlight the robust drug route between the two former Portuguese colonies, as well as a lesser-known transit region for Europe-bound cocaine.
In recent years, cocaine seizures along the Brazil-Mozambique route have become commonplace. On June 7, two people were arrested at Brazil’s Galeão Airport in Rio de Janeiro en route to Maputo, Mozambique, after authorities found up to 18 kilograms of cocaine in their luggage.
In March, a Brazilian bound for Maputo was detained at São Paulo’s Guarulhos Airport with five kilograms of cocaine, while in January some 32 kilograms were found in seven cargoes going from Fortaleza to Mozambique via Portugal.
Before the pandemic, it was a connection heavily serviced by individual drug “mules” smuggling a few kilograms at a time by air to Maputo International Airport, mostly from Sao Paulo’s Guarulhos Airport, with at least 5 such incidents reported throughout 2019: in March, August, mid– and late-November, and December.
Yet it was also last year that international fugitive and notorious Brazilian drug trafficker, Gilberto Aparecido Dos Santos, alias “Fuminho,” was arrested in Mozambique, where he was reported to be arranging drug deals on behalf of the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC).
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Mozambique remains a key node in a “southern route” connecting cocaine from Brazil to lucrative markets such as South Africa, with its pre-existing heroin and methamphetamine routes also doubling as cocaine trampolines to South African and then European ports.
In this sense, Fuminho’s arrest was emblematic. Despite “direct links between Brazilian figures and East and southern African countries hav[ing] only become apparent in the past five years,” Brazilian cocaine exports to Mozambique are reportedly increasing, mostly via maritime shipments to container seaports like Pemba, according to a June 2020 report by the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-TOC).
There are three main reasons why Mozambique is so attractive to Brazilian organized crime.
Firstly, the country’s historic drug trade. Since the 1990s, huge volumes of Afghan heroin have been traveling from Pakistan to East Africa by fishing boat, establishing regional trans-border smuggling routes easily piggybacked upon by South American cocaine, which has transited in Mozambique for at least two decades.
Secondly, alleged high-level corruption. According to a leaked 2010 US diplomatic cable, “the largest narcotrafficker in Mozambique, has direct ties to President Guebuza and former president Chissano [while] [o]ther traffickers bribe both high and low officials.”
Thirdly, weak customs capacity. Unlike in most Latin American and European ports, international customs and law enforcement programs are only just getting off the ground in Mozambique.
As of April 2021, the UNODC’s AIRCOP program, intended to reduce trafficking via airports, was still discussing the implementation of a task force at Maputo International Airport, while according to Bob Van den Berghe, regional coordinator for the United Nations’ Container Control Programme (CCP), the CCP will be operational at Maputo’s seaport as of July 2021.
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