Running drugs down the Amazon
By BBC News – Friday, 9 June, 2000
Copyright: BBC News
Ask people about drug trafficking and they look at you twice, then deny it’s a problem any longer.
But stay on a bit, and some of them begin to open up.
“It’s not something we talk about to strangers,” says one.
“There’s nothing else to do here,” says another.
“It’s really out of control,” adds a third.
Fuel tank haul
Just down river is the Federal Police’s Aznol Base – their highest profile interdiction operation on the border.
Here all vessels travelling down the Amazon further into Brazil have to stop and be searched.
They show me the 28 kilos of cocaine they dug out of a ferry boat’s fuel tank the day before.
But with just six police agents here at any one time, their presence seems largely symbolic.
The base commander himself takes me round the back and points out how determined traffickers can easily stop a little way up stream, carry their merchandise through a few kilometres of jungle, then reload further down river.
Not to mention the 1,000km of frontier with Colombia stretching north from here.
It’s thick rainforest, crossed by at least three major river systems, with dozens of tributaries – and there is no police presence at all.
Only the Brazilian army has a handful of border posts carved out of the jungle.
The US Government would like to see Brazilian soldiers joining the war on drugs along this frontier, just as it would like
Brazil to co-operate with military actions against the rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), who control most of the territory on the Colombian side of the border.
But Brazil is resisting.
The army says its role, as defined by the Brazilian Constitution, does not include policing the drugs trade.
Nor does it believe that the FARC represent any threat to Brazilian sovereignty.
Nationalists of both the left and the right, including some highly placed officers in Brazil’s military hierarchy, say they fear the drugs issue is being used by Washington as a pretext to justify an increasing international presence right across Amazonia.