Brazil after being faced with rising cocaine consumption linked to economic prosperity is cracking down harder on trafficking along its borders with three top neighboring coca leaf producers. The producers are Bolivia, Peru and Colombia.
"Our country is making headway economically and rising income translates into higher drug use," said Oslain Santana, head of the federal police's anti-organized crime task force.
Advertisement"Cocaine consumption is the highest in the south and the southeast, where 60 percent of the population and 75 percent of the country's GDP are concentrated," he added.
Brazil is, behind the United States, the world's second biggest consumer of cocaine and crack, a cocaine derivative with devastating effects which has seen a tenfold increase in the number of users from 2003 to 2010.
One percent of this South American powerhouse's 191 million people consume cocaine or crack, according to official statistics.
Federal police say 90 percent of the drug enters the country through Bolivia and Peru and the other 10 percent through Colombia while Paraguay supplies 80 percent of marijuana demand.
Amd growing nationwide calls for decriminalizing soft drugs, President Dilma Rousseff late last year launched a new military-police offensive against cocaine smuggling from the border areas to urban centers where prisons are chock-full of small-time dealers.
The plan calls for a legal reform to quickly destroy confiscated drugs to prevent their diversion and includes medical treatment for addicts.
It also provides for joint operations with police forces of neighboring countries under bilateral accords.
A total of 3,500 police personnel, 1,000 more than a year ago, have been assigned to the war on drugs, from the border areas to the cities' shantytowns.
"Our main strategy is to identify the big narcotraffickers and hit their wallets, attack their profits," Santana said.
This week, some 17,000 troops were deployed as part of Operation Agata 5 along the borders with Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina and Uruguay. These countries, were given advance notice of the deployment and sent observers, except Paraguay.
Over the past two weeks, 31 people have been arrested and six tons of drugs seized, according to the defense ministry.
Last year, federal police seized 24 tons of cocaine, compared with 27 tons in 2010.
Unlike in Mexico and Colombians, trafficking in this country is not controled by cartels but instead by medium-sized rings led by Brazilians.
"Our big traffickers do not yet resist when captured because they know they can afford the best lawyers to reduce sentences and resume their activities. That's why we are trying to hit them where it hurts... their wallets," Santana told AFP.
Brazil's tougher stance elicits no criticism from neighboring countries but has come under fire domestically.
Professor Beatriz Vagas, a narcotics control expert, deplored the fact that the government was "resorting to policies which have failed elsewhere at a time where there is a growing debate over drug legalization."
Questions are being raised about a 2006 law which imposes prison sentences on drug users but let police, when they make arrests, decide who is a consumer and who is a dealer depending on the quantity of drugs found.
The result is that the number of people in custody has jumped from 60,000 in 2006 to 125,000 in early 2012, a 24 percent hike in the total number of detentions for drug offenses, said Rubem Fernandes, head of a non-governmental organization advocating drug decriminalization.