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Foz do Iguaçu Is Entry Point for Contraband Electronics and Cigarettes in Brazil

03/12/2015 - 11h32

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REYNALDO TUROLLO JR.
LUCAS FERRAZ
DIMMI AMORA
SYLVIA COLOMBO

If all the cigarettes that Paraguay produces daily were to be consumed within the nation's borders, they would have to be smoked almost constantly by all 7.5 million Paraguayans, including newborns and the elderly.

The numbers show - and the seizures corroborate - that Brazil is the destination for much of this production, with the cigarettes entering the country illegally.

Because of Paraguay's low taxes on cigarettes - just 13% compared to 77% in Brazil - it is the principal contraband item in Brazil.

Tires, electronics, toys, clothes and computer hardware also come into Brazil by the same route. They are then transported to São Paulo and other large cities.

The cigarettes are produced in Paraguay, but the other merchandise is mostly imported by Paraguayan businesspeople from China. It then enters Brazil illegally over land, or by boat, over Lake Itaipu or the River Paraná.

The smugglers on both sides of the border are largely recruited from slums in the area. The so-called "carriers" are at the bottom of the hierarchy and they do not know for whom they work.

They can receive up to US$16 for seven hours' work, depending on how much they can transport. The boatmen, who "are most at risk of getting shot", earn US$96 a week.

The logistics of smuggling are complex, and are divided into various stages. Those involved only ever make contact by telephone. The aim is to prevent identification and the breakup of the gang if someone is caught.

It all begins at the riverbank. At 10am, on a hot Wednesday morning, eight young Paraguayans hidden in a parking lot close to the Brazilian side of the Friendship Bridge wait for a boat coming from Ciudad del Este, on the Paraguayan side, with illegal merchandise.

When the signal is given, the men descend the bank, collect the cargo and load it into two cars, with tinted windows and reinforced suspension, which are waiting in the parking lot. They say they make the trip five times a day with truck tires of nearly 60kg, or boxes of up to 100kg on their backs.

"Brazilians can't handle the work", says one of the men. "Brazilians eat beans. You have to eat cassava."

According to the Federal Police, the most difficult area to control is Lake Itaipu, which begins 11km (6.8 miles) to the north of Foz de Iguaçu and extends for 170km (106 miles) as far as Guaíra, on the border with Mato Grosso do Sul.

Its irregular shape means that boats can easily arrive at the Brazilian side without being stopped. There are also more violent criminal gangs operating on the lake, with experience from the Paraguayan marijuana market, which tend to use larger boats.

From the lake and the River Paraná, the merchandise is taken by car to warehouses close to the Friendship Bridge. When enough has been accumulated, it is loaded into trucks and sent away.

The main road out of Foz de Iguaçu is the BR-277, which crosses the state of Paraná from east to west. However, the smugglers are constantly altering their routes, in order to deceive the authorities.

Translated by TOM GATEHOUSE

Read the article in the original language

Lalo de Almeida - 3.mar.2015/Folhapress
Tires, electronics, toys, clothes and computer hardware come into Brazil through Foz do Iguaçu
Tires, electronics, toys, clothes and computer hardware come into Brazil through Foz do Iguaçu

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