Brazilian officials unload a seized drug plane from Bolivia

Anti-narcotics police in Bolivia have revealed that Brazil's PCC prison gang controls cocaine trafficking routes throughout the country, and are now on the hunt for a man they claim is the PCC's chief contact in Bolivia.

According to Gonzalo Quezada, head of Bolivia's Special Anti-Narcotics Police (FELCN), the São Paulo-based gang known as the First Capital Command (PCC) obtains much of the cocaine it sells in Brazil via a network of drug flights based out of Bolivia. Quezada told La Razon newspaper that drugs originating in Peru are loaded onto small planes and transported to eastern Bolivia, before being flown to Brazil.

Quezada also claimed that Bolivian authorities had identified the PCC's Sebastiao Spencer as the individual behind the gang's "air bridge." Although Spencer has been arrested several times, he has consistently been released under suspicious circumstances, according to La Razon. The last time he was arrested, in November 2011, he walked free despite being caught red-handed attempting to smuggle 150 kilograms of cocaine into Brazil along with four companions.

InSight Crime Analysis

The PCC's presence in Bolivia is the latest indication of the group's growing influence in the region. Officials in Brazil have said that the gang, which began in São Paulo prisons, now has active cells in 22 of Brazil's 27 states. The revelation that it is also involved in a relatively large-scale transnational drug trafficking operation spanning three countries is another illustration of the PCC's sophistication and oranizational capacity.

Quezada's announcement highlights just one side of Bolivia's importance to the Brazilian drug trade. Even though the Peru-Bolivia-Brazil route is becoming increasingly popular among drug smugglers, eastern Bolivia, -- particularly the province of Santa Cruz -- is emerging as a major drug trafficking hub in its own right. In fact, Brazilian government officials claim that just 38 percent of cocaine sold in their country can be traced back to Peru originally, while 54 percent comes from Boliva.