When satellite images revealed a small coca plantation some 150 kilometers south of Tabatinga in the Brazilian state of Amazonas on 14 March, both the Brazilian military and local members of the civil police immediately headed to intercept.
They found roughly two hectares of coca bushes and a small cocaine processing lab filled with all the necessary chemicals and other materials required to process coca leaves to coca paste and from paste to the pure powder.
According to analysts, Brazil consumes roughly 40 tons of cocaine a year, while another 40 tons annually pass through the county and on to West Africa where the shipments are downsized and carried into Europe, mostly through the work of dozens of mules.
Given the size of the two hectare plot, the bushes growing there could yield up to 12 kilos of pure cocaine, hardly enough to warrant Brazil as a source country.
The small plantation’s location was along the banks of the Javari river, south of Tabatinga, a lawless town that sits on the Brazil-Peruvian border. The location suggests cooperation between Brazilian and Peruvian elements, and confirms the use of the Javari river as a waterway used to transport cocaine from the remote jungles of the Amazon to the city of Manaus and possibly onto Belem on the coast for export, or south to Sao Paulo for distribution and local consumption.
The discovery of the plantation indicates that there are likely more, but most importantly, it confirms a long-held suspicion that coca bushes have been genetically engineered to grow at low altitudes.
According to local reports, the leaves of the coca bushes that grew along the banks of the Javari were thicker than the leaves found on bushes growing at higher altitudes in the Andes. Some point to the leaves’ thickness as a sign that this new strain can produce more coca paste per bush.
Tabatinga has long been known as a port town where drugs, guns, and the precursor chemicals used to produce cocaine meet and are swapped between interested parties coming south from Colombia, east from Peru, or west from Brazil. The Brazilian criminal Fernandinho Biera-Mar, considered to be running a multi-million dollar smuggling business from his prison cell, pioneered the links between organized crime in Rio and Colombia’s FARC. The cocaine for guns barter system he put in place is considered very much alive today.
It’s possible that his associates are involved in the creation of coca plantations in Brazil. Such an evolution is certainly not a surprise, as the Brazilian Amazon would be the perfect place to expand coca production.
Reporting the discovery of the camp, the Brazilian military called it a triumph of superior intelligence gathering. Others quietly regard it as a lucky break. With barely enough man power to operate the air-bridge denial program that Brazil maintains in the Amazon through a series of radar posts, and a Navy that refuses to patrol rivers, Brazilian authorities are hardly in a position to crack down on the proliferation of more coca bush plantations in the Amazon.
There is simple saying in Portuguese that goes, “In the Amazon, anything grows.” Apparently coca does too.
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