Dreams turn to dust after busts

2010-12-05 15:12

For Palesa*, a trip to Brazil was a dream come true. “I never went overseas before, and this is the first opportunity a guy is giving you.

“Of course I will take the opportunity to get on a flight – no pay, nothing, free shopping, free everything. I will go for it.”

With a coastline stretching 8?500km and porous borders to neighbouring countries, Brazil is vulnerable and has become notorious as a major transport route for South America’s underground ­cocaine industry.

The 2010 report of the UN ­Organisation for Drugs and Crime has revealed that demand for ­cocaine is shifting away from the US and towards Europe.

Mario Menin Jr is the federal ­police chief at the Sao Paulo-Guarulhos International Airport.

“The transshipment route from South America moves through Spain, Portugal, Holland and South Africa.

It all comes from ­Colombia, Peru or Bolivia and passes through here as Brazil is ­located between the producing and the consuming countries.”

Menin warns: “We have agents everywhere – at the boarding gates, checking the luggage, even among the passengers – observing their (drug mules) behaviour.”

The airport has more than 140 agents on high alert.

Margie* had done a few trips and was making good money.

“I passed Chiclayo Airport in Peru, then Lima Airport – the international airport where it’s terrible with ­police.

Then I was in transit for nine hours here (in Brazil) and as I went to board the plane, I saw the same guy I met in Argentina. He just looked at me and I knew it was over.”

Margie was promised $8?000. She was caught carrying 6kg of ­cocaine and is serving a seven-year jail sentence.

Fatima* is a mother of three from Gauteng. She was promised R20 000 and was caught carrying 900g of the drug. “They called me, gave the drugs to me, and I went to the airport.

But I was not so successful because the federal police in Brazil are aware of this situation. It’s like they are waiting for you.

“You know, each and every day they catch people at the airport, or on their way to the airport.

And whether you stay in Brazil for one month or one year, or one week, you are always a suspect.

They just know what to look out for.”

Palesa*, a mother of two from Limpopo, was promised R20?000. She was caught with 960g and is serving a five-year-and-seven-months jail sentence.

She shared her final moments of freedom: “When I reached the airport check-in counter, they said, how are you and where are you going? I said I am going to South Africa.

So they said, you must go to that police office and then they will lead you to that police office and after that, you will come back to me.

“I’m like, God, this is finished now. I was shaking and sweating. I couldn’t take it any more.

“So, I just decided (to tell them) no, I have the drugs. And then they handcuffed me.

I was thinking I was going to give them the cocaine then it’s finished because I’m the one that told them.

When I asked this police how long am I going to stay in Brazil, he said: ‘You came and carried cocaine in Brazil. It’s like this, you are going to stay 15 years.

You’re going to forget about your children, forget about everything.’ I couldn’t believe this.”

The South African consul­general in Sao Paulo, Yusuf Omar, said: “What you are seeing is insignificant compared to the flow of narcotics between continents.

“I think to a large extent these citizens of ours that are caught, if you look at the quantities they are caught with, generally by comparison they’re small quantities.

They could be diversions. Who knows what’s going on in the shadows.”

The cocaine industry in Brazil is not only export driven.

Marco Antonio Santos, director at the ministry for investigation of narcotics, said: “In Brazil it’s quite clear that international trafficking is related to the local market.

“What pays for and sustains the international trade are the drugs that come from local trafficking.”

When it comes to the war on drugs, Brazil is like a police state on high alert. Garra, like Swat in the US, is a visible force in the favelas (low-income areas) and downtown in the Centro area, where street raids are common.

Like South Africa, Brazil has its own share of corruption. New policies and tighter regulations raise transaction costs, forcing traffickers to pay off politicians, judges and police to turn a blind eye.

*?The women have requested that their real names be kept confidential

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