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In the world of cocaine trafficking, there are a couple of surprising trends that are having a big impact in South America. One is that cocaine consumption in the U.S. has been dropping fast. The other is that cocaine production in Colombia is declining significantly. But cocaine traffickers in South America are adjusting.
As NPR's Juan Forero reports, they found a new target for their product - Brazil
JUAN FORERO, BYLINE: Like other rivers here in Rondonia State, the Mamore flows north, from Bolivia into the heart of Brazil's Amazon. A perfect path to transport Bolivian products, people and cocaine, so say the Brazilian cops who use a speedboat to patrol this wide, slow-moving river.
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FORERO: Welcome to the latest front in the war on drugs. This time, the 2,100-mile border Brazil shares with Bolivia in the center of South America. A porous, remote and rugged frontier, one longer than the U.S.-Mexico border and one that, in many ways, is harder to secure.
Alexandre Nascimento, a federal police agent, pilots a speedboat near the Brazilian Port of Guajara-Mirim.
ALEXANDRE MASCIMENTO: (Foreign language spoken)
FORERO: Here we patrol at dawn and at night, looking to ambush the boats that cross with drugs, Nascimento says. But it's difficult and dangerous and you have to have patience.
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FORERO: You also have to have luck to decipher which of the countless small boats that cross the Mamore from Bolivia is carrying drugs. Brazilian and U.N. counter drug officials say those little boats and small planes that make 20-minute flights are flooding Brazil with Bolivian cocaine. The reasons are simple: Brazil, long the world's number two consumer of cocaine after the United States, is seeing consumption rise fast. And Bolivia is responding to the demand, according to U.N. and U.S. data.
Bo Mathiasen is a senior U.N. drug official who tracks the cocaine trade, and he says traffickers are pioneering new markets.
BO MATHIASEN: And clearly, Brazil and, for that sake, also other Southern Cone countries have been an increasingly interesting market for cocaine. And so, the traffickers have been focusing on trying to ship more cocaine over towards Brazil, to Argentina, and down to Chile.
FORERO: Brazil has lifted 30 million people into the middle-class in recent years. And for traffickers, that's particularly alluring, Mathiasen says.
MATHIASEN: Brazil is, in a way, victim of its own success. Clearly, the economic success and the rising purchasing power and the growth of the economy turned it more attractive also for drug trafficking.
FORERO: The turn toward Brazil comes as cocaine use in the United States has fallen by two-thirds since 1982. It's a trend the U.N. says has been especially notable since 2006.
Meanwhile, Colombia, which has historically supplied cocaine to the U.S., has seen the amount of land dedicated to drug crops reduced by half since 2001. Cocaine production has also fallen steeply. Peru and Bolivia have picked up the slack. And those two countries share a frontier with Brazil that's 4,000 miles long.
PRESIDENT DILMA ROUSSEFF: (Foreign language spoken)
FORERO: All together, Brazil has 10,000 miles of border, a great challenge to patrol, President Dilma Rousseff said in announcing her strategy to secure the frontier. That was in 2011. Since then, Brazil has been deploying thousands of troops. The government is also assigning more and better equipped police to the border. And there are plans for a fleet of aerial drones to patrol the most remote sectors.
In a hearing in Brasilia, Justice Minister Jose Eduardo Cardozo said Brazil moved fast and aggressively.
JOSE EDUARDO CARDOZO: (Foreign language spoken)
FORERO: It's impossible to have a border that's invulnerable, he said. But our frontiers are much better controlled than in the past.
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FORERO: At the Brazilian Port of Guajara-Mirim, boats drop off people arriving from Bolivia with boxes and suitcases.
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FORERO: Everything they carry goes through a new X-ray machine, another tool provided to detect drugs. But the police say it's out on the Mamore or its tributaries where the cocaine is being moved.
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FORERO: Heavy rains kept the waterways to the brim as four federal agents motored down a tributary. Along the way, they point out creeks that lead into the thick forest, creeks that weren't navigable before the rain started falling.
ALLAN OLIVEIRA: (Foreign language spoken)
FORERO: Allan Oliveira, one of the agents, says this is where they bring in the contraband - guns, fuel and drugs. Juan Forero, NPR News.
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