Brazil police crack down on global weapons smuggling band, arrests 11

By Renzo Pipoli
Soldiers stand on guard in a street on June 9 during a military operation in a district of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. File Photo by EPA-EFE/Antonio Lacerda
Soldiers stand on guard in a street on June 9 during a military operation in a district of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. File Photo by EPA-EFE/Antonio Lacerda

Dec. 3 (UPI) -- Brazilian police on Monday cracked down on an international trafficking organization believed to have smuggled hundreds of weapons from the country's southern neighbor Paraguay for use in Rio de Janeiro's crime-ridden shantytowns.

Agents with orders to make 17 arrests captured 11, at least two in the region of Mato Grosso do Sul, an area in the southwest of the country that borders Bolivia and Paraguay, G1 Globo reported Monday.


The report did not identify the type of weaponry seized.

Police believe the band likely introduced hundreds of weapons and thousands of ammunition rounds that were supplied to drug trafficking organizations that operate in Rio de Janeiro, about 870 miles from the Brazil-Paraguay border.

Investigations started in the Rio de Janeiro area after the confiscation of some weapons shipments in recent months. Police had followed the group for a year, the report said.


The arrest orders include 14 people in the state of Rio de Janeiro and the rest in Brazil's southwest.

Before the crackdown, as many as 33,000 bullets were confiscated this year and eight people were arrested. There have been four different operation, the first dating back to November 2017, the report said.

Brazil, and in particular Rio de Janeiro, is plagued by drug-related violence with groups that appear to have control of some parts of the city known as favelas, which concentrate most of the poor.

Residents of Rocinha, one of those areas, is one of the most affected. According to a report in El Confidencial from October 2017, the Brazilian government sent 950 soldiers last year to stop widespread violence and shootouts in Rocinha, as drug trafficking groups fought over control of the area.

That report came after a Spanish tourist was struck by a bullet in the area and died after the tour driver of her vehicle failed to stop at a government security control. There are organizations in Rio de Janeiro that organize visits to those areas, in part to help residents find additional alternative income sources.

Weapons used in the area include AK-47 assault rifles. The drug violence often recruits teenagers. Violence involving different weapons is a daily occurrence in Rio de Janeiro.


In a separate report Monday from Sao Goncalo, three members of a family that had just bought a house were injured as they were cleaning up ahead of moving. They opened an unknown bag that contained grenades and other explosives that detonated, according to a report Monday attributed by R7 to RecordTV Rio. The home had been closed for a year and the explosives were apparently left there by a drug traffickers band.

Paraguay has seen a heavy presence of Brazilian criminal bands that included the December 2017 capture of Marcelo Pinheiro, who authorities said had long been a leader of the Rio de Janeiro criminal organization Comando Vermelho.

Ultima Hora reported last month Pinheiro visited an 18-year old girl in jail and killed her by stabbing her several times. Paraguayan authorities said he likely committed the crime to avoid extradition to Brazil. According to reports, Paraguayan authorities authorized his explusion after the killing.

In October, Paraguay police found a vehicle loaded with dynamite they believed would be used in a bid by Comando Vermelho to free Pinheiro, who authorities in both countries believe supplied the group with drugs and weapons from Paraguay.

Comando Vermelho is a criminal group that has roots in the late 1960s and 1970s, when the Brazilian military government jailed left-wing militants in top security prisons to maximize their punishment and force them to live together with the country's most dangerous common criminals.


Comando Vermelho, or Red Command, was initially organized as a self-defense group within Rio de Janeiro jails. However, in the past decades, the group's activities spilled into other parts of the city and has since lost all ideology after younger members entered the illegal drug trade, according to media reports.

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