Brazil's gangs emerge as major cocaine exporters to Europe

Aboard Russian M17 Helicopters - Brazilian and Peruvian police land in the Amazon on an anti-narcotics mission.

Long regarded as a cocaine-consuming nation, Brazil has turned into a critical launch pad to get coke across the ocean.

OVER THE LAST FEW YEARS, Brazilian gangs have become some of the top suppliers of cocaine to Europe, transforming the country's role in the trans-Atlantic drug trade at a speed that has stunned anti-narcotics authorities.

Reuters journalist Gabriel Stargardter reported from the remote Peruvian Amazon, where he embedded with Brazilian and Peruvian police battling gangsters who have ramped up production of the drug near the countries' shared border.


"My name is Gabriel Stargardter, I'm a Reuters reporter here in the Amazon region of Peru. I'm reporting from a cocaine lab and kitchen, where Peruvian anti-drugs police have just set fire to the place, after raiding in a helicopter. We're surrounded by cocaine bushes, which will later be attended to by a special eradication unit. This is not the largest cocaine-producing region in Peru, but it's one that's unleashed a record wave of violence along northern Brazil, where Brazilian gangs fight over highly lucrative trafficking routes."

Much of the product produced in the Peruvian jungle enters Brazil by boat along the Amazon River, and heads to Manaus, a city of roughly 2 million people. From there, it moves to Brazilian ports, where authorities say record amounts of coke are loaded on to container ships bound for Europe.

In Santos, which is Latin America's largest port, one Brazilian customs inspector told Reuters that the drug gangs now use decoy construction equipment, hiding blocks of the white powder in second-hand backhoes destined for Europe.

But cracking down at the source is a challenge. During the joint anti-narcotics mission last year, suspects vanished into the jungle at the sound of approaching aircraft. Police made just three arrests.