Bolivian authorities broke up a network suspected of smuggling guns from the United States to Brazil’s First Capital Command (PCC) gang, highlighting this Andean nation’s role as a transit route in the region’s illicit arms trade.
On January 25, authorities arrested four Bolivian nationals in the city of Santa Cruz and seized an arms shipment worth $150,000 that was destined to be sent across the border to the Brazilian PCC gang, reported EFE news agency.
Among the 28 weapons seized — all of which were sent from the US state of Rhode Island — were 15 assault rifles, five small firearms and two revolvers. The Bolivian government has requested support from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to look into the US supplier. Bolivian Interior Minister Carlos Romero stated that it was not the first time an arms shipment had arrived in the country from Rhode Island, according to Los Tiempos.
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The breakup of this arms trafficking operation came just days after the Bolivian government announced it had detained three PCC operatives — one Peruvian and two Colombians — responsible for shipping cocaine from Bolivia to Brazil.
Combined, the two rounds of arrests highlight the importance of Bolivia to Brazil’s gangs; up to 80 percent of Bolivian cocaine is believed to end up in the Brazilian market which constitutes the second largest in the world, after the United States.
One reason Brazilian gangs are looking to route their arms shipments via Bolivia is likely due to the fact that the Andean nation has weak regulation for arms and ammunition, making it vulnerable to the illicit weapons trade. Attempts have been made to pass a national firearms law since 2002, but all have fallen short.
The case also shows the role of the United States as a key source country for weaponry used by organized criminal groups in the region. Much of the focus on the US’s role has typically been on how lax American gun laws mean weapons often make it into the hands of Mexico’s criminal groups. This case reveals just how far south this role stretches.
Another key supplier for Bolivia’s gun trade is its southern neighbor Argentina. A report by Argentina’s La Nacion newspaper on January 28 highlighted that in 2012, the Argentine Gendarmerie seized over 1 million rounds, with many destined for Bolivia.