Bolivia Police Catch Members of Brazil’s Red Command

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A recent shootout between Bolivian police and two foreign nationals speaks to the internationalization of Brazil’s oldest criminal group.

Bolivian authorities surprised two suspects at a clandestine airstrip in eastern Bolivia as they loaded a plane with 400 kilos of cocaine, reported La Razon

In the following gunfight Brazilian Wagner Santulho was shot and later died, while police were able to take Paraguayan Rilmer Eustaguio Ruiz alive. 

Both were members of Brazilian criminal group Red Command (Commando Vermelho), Bolivian Interior Minister Carlos Romero was quoted as saying. 

SEE ALSO: Red Command News & Profile

Bolivian authorities also reportedly linked Santulho to other crimes in the region including piloting previous drug flights in Bolivia and Paraguay, distributing crack in Brazil and Paraguay, as well as stealing two planes originating from Argentina and another from Paraguay. 

InSight Crime Analysis

This latest shootout confirms reports of Red Command’s permanent presence outside of Brazil. 

While the group has reportedly lost some influence back home due to heavy-handed slum pacification campaigns and rival criminal groups, it has increased efforts to import drugs for Brazil’s domestic market.

Towards this goal Red Command’s international operations appear to focus on Paraguay, South America’s largest marijuana producer, and Bolivia, the region’s growing cocaine hub. 

SEE ALSO: Evo’s Challenge – Bolivia the Drug Hub

Another aspect of these efforts is an internationalization of Red Command personnel. Past criminal groups, such as Colombia’s pioneering cocaine cartels, often preferred to work with people from their own country. The advantage being that their families were in reach of the cartel and therefore loyalty could be better ensured. 

In contrast, while Red Command’s non-Brazilian members may be less easy to control, having locals involved helps the group navigate foreign criminal landscapes. 

The practice isn’t exclusive to Red Command either. Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel and Tijuana Cartel have been known to use foreign agents, indicating the value foreigners represent in securing drugs internationally.  

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