Monday, April 25, 2005

Brazilian drug traffickers have teamed up with Colombian rebels to smuggle narcotics through Paraguay, creating a lucrative new channel for distribution to the United States and Europe.

That’s the word according to Brazilian and Paraguayan officials and the recently released U.S. State Department report on illegal activity along the Paraguay-Brazil border.

Using a precisely orchestrated system of flights from the Colombian jungle, Marxist rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, are shipping 40 to 60 tons of cocaine annually to farms in Paraguay owned by Brazilian drug lords, who then put the cocaine in cars and small trucks and drive them across the nearly unmonitored border into rural western Brazil.

Cocaine for Brazil

From there, the drugs make their way to major cities such as Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, where they are then distributed by drug syndicates.

Before his arrest in November in Paraguay, Brazilian drug lord Ivan Carlos Mendes Mesquita was the main link between the FARC, which uses drug profits to fund its four-decade-long battle against the Colombian government, and the Brazilian drug trade.

Mesquita oversaw the exchange of cocaine from the FARC in return for arms, dollars and euros from Brazilian traffickers.

The State Department’s 2005 International Narcotics Strategy Report called his capture “a significant accomplishment.”

“The United States has initiated an extradition request for Mesquita, and the government of Paraguay has indicated its willingness to expedite the process,” said the report.

State Department officials declined to elaborate for The Washington Times on their efforts to stymie this lucrative new drug transit system in the region.

Police corruption cited

While calling the capture of Mesquita a significant Para- guayan accomplishment in the war on drugs, the Narcotics Strategy Report also notes the “corruption and inefficiency” within the Paraguayan National Police, who have been accused of protecting Brazilian narcotics traffickers.

But the report did not mention FARC’s recent cultivation of ties with leftist rebels in Paraguay. Among those who have addressed the connection is John Keanes, the U.S. ambassador to Paraguay, who recently told Paraguayan reporters that the FARC was active in the area.

Colombian Marxists infiltrating Paraguay beyond the drug trade made headlines in February when former presidential daughter Cecilia Cubas was found dead after being held captive for more than two months.

Seized in Venezuela

Paraguayan authorities learned from one of the murder suspects, Osmar Martinez of Paraguay’s radical-left Free Fatherland group, that he had been in touch with high-ranking FARC leader Rodrigo Grande, the “foreign minister” of the Marxist rebels.

Grande was captured in Venezuela in December, provoking a diplomatic spat between Colombia and Venezuela.

Although FARC often kidnaps prominent people in Colombia and holds them for ransom, the group has not been known to do so elsewhere.

The Brazilian drug trade with the FARC continues to thrive despite the capture of Mesquita and the seizure of 20 Brazilian-owned farms in Paraguay used as transfer points for planes loaded with Colombian cocaine.

Borders are porous

Some see the continuing trade as revealing Paraguayan and Brazilian inefficacy in law enforcement.

“All the borders in South America are porous,” said Riordan Roett, Brazil scholar and director of the Johns Hopkins University Western Hemisphere Program. “For better or worse, drug money permeates everything along the region’s borders,” he added, noting that many border police in Brazil and Paraguay are poorly trained and underpaid.

“A little money goes a long way in that part of the world,” Mr. Roett continued.

The culture of bribery that permeates much of Latin American police work and politics led to recent accusations that the FARC contributed about $5 million to the 2002 campaigns of Brazil’s ruling Workers Party.

Story still not verified

A March article in the Brazilian magazine Veja — denounced by the Workers Party — cited Brazilian intelligence documents stating that a high-level FARC leader met with Workers Party members in April 2002.

“As far as I know, there is no paper trail or evidence to that effect,” said Mr. Roett regarding the report in Veja. “But I do not doubt the FARC would be delighted to be able to do so as a way of buying friends and influencing border policing policies.”

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