Brazil's new arms-trafficking frontier? The sea

Brazil’s Federal Police say that arms traffickers are using new routes to get weapons into the country. Entry via sea port is now just as important as entry over land.

Brazil has more gun deaths than any other country in the world, and so the phenomenon of arms trafficking is a major concern.

Almost 20 percent of guns seized in the country are foreign produced, while those that cannot legally be sold in the country are legitimately produced in Brazil and then exported, before being smuggled back in, according to a study on arms trafficking by NGO Viva Rio, in collaboration with Brazil’s Justice Department.

According to a recent report by Correio Braziliense, the Federal Police say the increased use of maritime routes to smuggle arms is a significant development in arms trafficking into Brazil. Police identified Santos, in Sao Paulo, and Paranagua, in Parana – the country’s two biggest ports – as major points of entry for arms. They attributed this in part to the fact that there is so little oversight of imports in these ports, due to the large quantity of cargo passing through them. The growth in Brazil’s foreign trade is a major factor in driving maritime arms smuggling and the bulk of imports and exports and making it more difficult to spot illegal goods, according to the police.

The police do not provide data on the proportion of illegal guns entering by Brazil by sea, saying only that the sea routes into the country are now as much a cause for concern as the land routes. According to Correio Braziliense, only 1 percent of containers are checked at the ports, but this statistic appears to date back to a 2009 report from Veja magazine, which reported that “Brazil’s ports are like sieves,” citing that only 1 percent of containers are checked for contraband such as weapons or drugs.

Even if Brazil’s ports are becoming increasingly important transit points for illegal weapons, it is likely that the land routes will remain very heavily used. The country borders 10 other nations, with almost 17,000 km of frontier in total; more than half is jungle, which is only minimally patroled.

Much contraband, including arms, drugs, and illegal immigrants, passes through these densely forested and remote areas. However, much also goes through border towns, which, at least in theory, have a much higher law enforcement presence. The 2010 arms trafficking report says that border control is “far from satisfactory.”

The original posting of this blog shows a map by the Ministry of Justice of the points on Brazil's borders through which the most arms traffic passes, along with the major ports.

The Federal Police highlighted Colombia, Bolivia, and Suriname as key countries through which arms enter Brazil to the north, while Argentina and Paraguay are key in the south. They said that one key route through which small arms travel is over Lake Itaipu, on the border between Brazil and Paraguay, also in Parana state.

As the map shows, many of the key land trafficking points are located on the Paraguayan border. This is a key location for the phenomenon of illegally re-importing weapons. The 2010 Viva Rio report found that in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, which borders on Paraguay and Bolivia, almost 30 percent of weapons seized had been exported from Brazil then re-imported.

--- Hannah Stone is a writer for Insight – Organized Crime in the Americas, which provides research, analysis, and investigation of the criminal world throughout the region. Find all of her research here.

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