For the second time in a month, São Paulo police arrested a large group allegedly trying to smuggle cocaine to Angola, in a sign of southern Africa's importance as transit hub and market for the drug trade.

Police at São Paulo airport stopped 24 people trying to board a flight to Luanda, capital of Angola, on Monday. The men were all carrying Nigerian passports, though police suspect some may be fake, and had apparently swallowed capsules of cocaine. They were arrested and taken to a city hospital to expel the drugs from their bodies.

This was the biggest group to be caught in Brazil transporting drugs in this way, according to police, but the men are part of a larger pattern. Less than a month before, 23 Nigerians were stopped at the same airport with cocaine capsules in their stomachs and a suitcase with eight kilos of the drug, also trying to board a flight to Luanda. They join hundreds of other mules, often African, charged with trying to smuggle drugs from Brazil to southern Africa.

Brazil does not produce cocaine, but its extensive land borders include permeable frontiers with Colombia, Peru and Bolivia, the world’s principal cocaine producers, as well as with various transit countries, such as Paraguay and Venezuela.

brazil_africa_cocaine

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported as far back as 2005 that Brazilian criminal groups were increasingly developing trafficking links with southern Africa, where Angola is located. In the years since then, the amount of South American cocaine passing through Brazil has increased exponentially. The number of seizures of cocaine that could be traced back to Brazil went up 10-fold between 2005 and 2009. In 2010, São Paulo's international airport seized a record quantity of cocaine, confiscating some 1.8 tons over the course of the year.

As InSight Crime has previously reported, there has been evidence in recent years of the growing presence of drug gangs in North and West Africa, particularly in nations like Nigeria and Guinea-Bissau. The increased importance of Brazil as a transit point for cocaine may be driven in part by the country having easier access to the African continent than anywhere else in South America.

Much of the cocaine that passes through West and southern Africa is in transit to Europe, which has become a much larger cocaine market in the last decade. As the map, left, indicates, Europe’s rising demand has been fed by a proliferation of trafficking routes, with the emergence of a Brazil-southern Africa-Europe route, some of which passes through West Africa, in the decade between 1998 and 2008.

Some of the cocaine heading to southern Africa is intended for consumption in the region’s richest country, South Africa. Some 60 percent of cocaine trafficked into South Africa in 2009 went to the domestic market, according to government figures quoted by the UN. Much of the rest of it goes north to Europe, on direct flights or via West Africa. Angola does not have a significant domestic demand for cocaine, and much of the drug passes straight through the country, heading north to Nigeria and Europe, often entering the continent through Portugal. (Angola is Portugese-speaking, making it easier for local criminal groups to deal with Brazilian and Portuguese traffickers.)

An indication of the amounts trafficked through Angola is given by the fact that, according to local media, police seized 74 kilos of cocaine at Luanda’s main airport in 2010.

Most of the cocaine going from Brazil to southern Africa is transported by individuals traveling on commercial flights who conceal it on their persons. Local newspaper the Jornal de Angola reported in April that, according to a police source, more than 90 percent of the drug that reaches the country by air is brought from Brazil, mostly transported by mules from São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro. It said that these mules are mostly Africans, often from Nigeria, Senegal, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Mali, as well as Angola. As the newspaper details, these individuals often say they were unaware of the cargo they would be transporting until they arrived in Brazil, having been promised large sums of money if they traveled to the South American country to perform licit business errands. One South African campaign group said in 2009 that around 30 South African citizens are arrested on suspicion of drug smuggling in Brazil every month, and that the figure had shot up in the previous two years. UN figures from 2005 said that just under 35 percent of drug couriers caught in Brazil were Africans.

It seems that Africans may also be increasingly involved in the higher echelons of the business. One UNDOC official stated in June that increasingly sophisticated African groups are taking control of the drug trade in their region, displacing South American trafficking organizations.

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

The power of Colombia's elites is founded upon one of the most unequal divisions of land in the world. As of the early 21st century, one percent of landowners own more than half the country's agricultural land.1  Under Spanish rule, Colombia's agriculture was organized on the hacienda...

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Honduras is currently one of the most violent countries on the planet that is not at war. The violence is carried out by transnational criminal organizations, local drug trafficking groups, gangs and corrupt security forces, among other actors. Violence is the focal point for the international aid...

Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Organized crime and the violence associated with it is the preeminent problem in Latin America and the Caribbean today. The region is currently home to six of the most violent countries in the world that are not at war. Four of those countries are in Central America...

Special Report: Gangs in Honduras

Special Report: Gangs in Honduras

In a new report based on extensive field research, InSight Crime and the Asociacion para una Sociedad mas Justa have traced how Honduras' two largest gangs, the MS13 and the Barrio 18, are evolving, and how their current modus operandi has resulted in staggering levels of violence...

Bolivia: the New Hub for Drug Trafficking in South America

Bolivia: the New Hub for Drug Trafficking in South America

Transnational organized crime likes opportunities and little resistance. Bolivia currently provides both and finds itself at the heart of a new criminal dynamic that threatens national and citizen security in this landlocked Andean nation.

Justice and the Creation of a Mafia State in Guatemala

Justice and the Creation of a Mafia State in Guatemala

As Guatemala's Congress gears up to select new Supreme Court Justices and appellate court judges, InSight Crime is investigating how organized crime influences the selection process. This story details the interests of one particular political bloc vying for control over the courts and what's at stake: millions...

The FARC 2002-Present: Decapitation and Rebirth

The FARC 2002-Present: Decapitation and Rebirth

In August 2002, the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) greeted Colombia's new president with a mortar attack that killed 14 people during his inauguration. The attack was intended as a warning to the fiercely anti-FARC newcomer. But it became the opening salvo of...

The Urabeños - The Criminal Hybrid

The Urabeños - The Criminal Hybrid

The mad scramble for criminal power in the aftermath of the demobilization of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) is over. The Urabeños, or as they prefer to call themselves, the "Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia," have won.

Mexico's Security Dilemma: The Battle for Michoacan

Mexico's Security Dilemma: The Battle for Michoacan

Faced with the government's failure to rein in the criminals, communities across crime-besieged Mexico have been trying for years to organize effective civic resistance. Michoacan's vigilantes express the most extreme response by society to date, but other efforts have been less belligerent. In battle-torn cities along the...

Uruguay's Marijuana Bill Faces Political, Economic Obstacles

Uruguay's Marijuana Bill Faces Political, Economic Obstacles

If Uruguay's proposal to regulate the production, sale and distribution of marijuana is properly implemented and overcomes political and economic hurdles, it could be the most important drug regulation experiment in decades.