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Friday, February 23, 2024

Brazil Cracks Down on Cocaine Traffickers as They Target Transatlantic Routes

Brazilian Federal Police, together with port and customs and law enforcement partners, recently arrested six individuals and seized more than 30 kilos of cocaine as they say traffickers are using new tactics.

Police dogs on the Port of Santos pier alerted the authorities to the cruise passenger’s luggage and officers searched the suitcases, they found hidden compartments containing cocaine. The passengers (five Brazilian and one Argentinian) were arrested on April 18 and prevented from boarding the cruise which sailed to Europe, stopping in Spain and Italy.

The arrests were made as part of Brazilian Federal Police’s Operation Transatlantico, which focuses on drug trafficking via transatlantic passenger routes by sea and air. Earlier in April, Spanish police reported they had found 54 kilos of cocaine hidden in 15 pieces of luggage belonging to cruise passengers from Brazil. On this occasion, 10 passengers were arrested, all of whom were Brazilian citizens. 

Brazilian Federal Police have also reported numerous arrests and seizures at airports in April as part of the operation. These include a Paraguayan national attempting to smuggle cocaine to France via Foz do Iguaçu International Airport on April 17. As with the cruise passengers, the Paraguayan’s suitcase had been adapted to (unsuccessfully) conceal the cocaine.

Several passengers have also been stopped at São Paulo International Airport. All were booked on international flights and were found to have drugs hidden inside clothing, cosmetic bottles, on person and in their luggage.

On April 14, sniffer dogs alerted to a Brazilian passenger ticketed for a flight to Lisbon, Portugal. He had almost 12 kg of cocaine hidden inside pieces of fabric and his final destination was intended to be the city of Maputo, Mozambique.

On April 15, almost 8kg of cocaine was seized from a passenger, a national of Guinea Bissau, who entered the country benefiting from the Refuge Law, hidden inside 16 dress shirts. The suspect was to board a flight to Doha, Qatar.

Moments after this arrest, the same team of police arrested a Brazilian couple with almost 5kg of cocaine packed inside perfume, shampoo, deodorants, shaving creams and moisturizers. The suspects were destined for Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates.

The following day, a Turkish national who was booked on a flight to the city of Arbil, in Iraq, was caught with a suitcase whose inner side was composed of a mixture of rubber and cocaine. The gross weight of the seized material amounted to more than 3kg. 

Two women, one from Angola and the other from Namibia, were arrested by police at the airport while trying to board a flight to Addis Ababa, with almost 18kg of cocaine hidden inside lycra shorts and vests, made with adhesive tape, which they wore under their clothes.

In another action carried out that day, by the same team of police, a woman, a national of South Africa, was arrested with more than 2kg of cocaine hidden in the false bottom of her suitcase. She was destined for Johannesburg.

São Paulo International Airport was also the scene of an arrest in the early hours of April 26. Military police officers, who were patrolling the airport lobby, noticed that a passenger was very nervous to see them approaching. The woman, a national of Venezuela, had her luggage searched. Police found 79 packages containing cocaine. The passenger’s travel destination was the city of Douala, Cameroon.

Elsewhere in Brazil this April, a Swiss national was arrested under Operation Transatlantico on April 20 at Belo Horizonte International Airport, with three kilos of cocaine. The drug was hidden in a false bottom in the passenger’s suitcase. This followed an arrest just hours earlier of a Nigerian national who tried to smuggle 9kg of cocaine in blankets.

On April 23, Brazil’s Federal Police carried out two arrests of passengers who tried to board flights at the same airport with cocaine. A Brazilian, who was traveling to Ghana, Africa, and a 54-year-old Nicaraguan, who was bound for Europe, were arrested. The national was found to have approximately 11kg of cocaine inserted inside plumb bobs. The Nicaraguan citizen hid 12kg of cocaine in the false bottoms of his suitcases.

Brazilian law enforcement also reports that 24kg of cocaine has been seized at Gilberto Freyre International Airport so far this year. Officials say they are noting an increase in size of shipments and new tactics such as the recent trend to attempt to blend in with cruise passengers or to use smaller destination ports and airports.

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted new modalities of trafficking drugs, including new regions and routes, including through waterways and ports. In December, a report by Brazil’s Centre of Excellence for Illicit Drug Supply Reduction said that due to pandemic travel restrictions, there was a diversification in the seaports used, with an increase in seizures of the drug in the ports of Salvador, Ilhéus and Joinville. This, combined with the growing trend of blending in with cruise passengers now that travel restrictions are lifting, necessitates a new focus on maritime trafficking routes.

With this in mind, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime – Brazil, co-organized the First International Seminar on Narcotrafficking through Ports and Maritime Vessels at the end of March to promote inter-agency cooperation through a broad discussion on strengthening prevention, control, inspection and repression of transnational crimes in the maritime environment.

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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