Data on the illicit traffic in cocaine and coca leaves in South America, with an annex on narcotics control in Brazil


Initial statistics
Repercussions in the international control bodies
Problems of the production and export of coca leaves
The Rio de Janeiro Conference


Author: Decio Parreiras
Pages: 33 to 36
Creation Date: 1961/01/01

Data on the illicit traffic in cocaine and coca leaves in South America, with an annex on narcotics control in Brazil

Dr. Decio Parreiras
President of the Brazilian National Commission for the Control of Narcotic Drugs;Member of the Permanent Central Opium Board and the Drug Supervisory Body

On 25 September 1956, the Brazilian Government was informed by telegram from Lima of the existence of an illicit traffic in cocaine and coca leaves between Brazil and Peru. The traffic was made easier by the inadequacy of local policing in the vast mountain region where the two countries meet.

It was said that the smugglers had large financial resources, expert technicians and abundant equipment for manufacturing cocaine. It was even acknowledged that there was a large factory on the Amazon plateau and that the traffic was mainly between the towns of Iquitos in Peru and Manaos in Brazil. From there, the drug was sent to Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Paramaribo, whence it reached Cuba, Mexico and Italy.

As early as 12 June 1957, the diplomatic representative of Brazil at La Paz (Bolivia) informed the customs inspector of Corumba (Brazil) that the Bolivain Government had discovered clandestine laboratories manufacturing cocaine, which was smuggled to São Paulo by air. It was therefore considered necessary to search all parcels, luggage, cameras and hand-bags systematically. He mentioned 29 large-scale smugglers already known to the Bolivian police who were using aircraft of the national air line (CAS). In January 1958 the attention of the National Commission for the Control of Narcotic Drugs was drawn to what was going on in São Paulo, which now has over 3 million inhabitants, where cocaine smuggled from Peru and Bolivia was being sold quite freely in the night-clubs. In several raids made at that time, the São Paulo police managed to seize 2 kg 800 g of illicitly sold cocaine.

On 1 March 1958, the police of the province of Amazonas began to investigate the drug traffic in the city of Manaos, in the extreme north of Brazil, and came to the conclusion that all the alkaloid seized had been manufactured in Bolivia, in the province of Beni, and brought into other countries across the Amazon river.

On 28 March 1958, the four representatives of the state police forces of Minas Gerais, São Paulo, Guanabara and Rio de Janeiro met at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs (Rio de Janeiro) and, with regard to what was called the "cocaine route ", concluded that the drug came from Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Cochabamba and Sucre (Bolivia), that it was passed on to Corumba (Mato Grosso, Brazil) and that from there it went to São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, mainly by air, thus reaching the two principal centres of consumption in South America.

By that time, however, the police of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo already knew the trafficker's exact route and had placed in custody on criminal charges the internationally known leaders of the gang - namely: Mario Caso, Jose Kathoumi, Jorge Skeff, Capitro Pablo Arias Ortiz (known as "Pablito"), Ricardo Caponi, Julio García, and others.

Initial statistics

The technical staff of the National Commission for the Control of Narcotic Drugs - the federal body which, in Brazil, is responsible for supervising the lawful trade in narcotic drugs and combating illicit traffic - arrived at the following conclusions during the period September 1956 to December 1959:

1- A total of 163 persons were implicated in the smuggling of cocaine and coca leaves between nine American countries and Italy.

2. The nine American countries concerned were: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Dutch Guiana, Paraguay, Peru and the United States of America.

3. Of the persons implicated in the cocaine traffic, 143 were men and 20 were women; they comprised 54 Brazilians, 24 Bolivians, 12 Italians, 5 Lebanese, 4 Egyptians, 1 North American, 1 German, 1 Portugese, 1 French, 1 Japanese and 1 Chilean, the remainder being impossible to identify; sixteen were white, the race of the other traffickers being unspecified save that there were no negroes; 1 was aged 19, 1 aged 23, 2 aged 25, 3 aged 27, 2 aged 29, 5 aged 30, 1 aged 34, 2 aged 35, 1 aged 37, 1 aged 38, 3 aged 39, 1 aged 41, 1 aged 45, 1 aged 48; no information was available regarding the others. They included 1 aircraft mechanic, 1 pilot, 1 chemist, 2 pharmacists, 4 tradesmen, 1 manufacturer, 1 singer, 4 car drivers, 1 policeman, 2 civil servants, 1 ex-ambassadress, 2 members of the Federal Air Force, 1 doctor of philosophy, 1 domestic servant, 1 hawker, 1 cobbler, 1 motor-car parts salesman, 21 unemployed; l0 were married, 7 single and 1 a widower, the status of the others being unspecified.

4. The country most affected by the illicit traffic was Brazil, where the following towns or villages were visited by the traffickers: São Paulo, Santos, São Vicente, Itu, Cacapara, Corumba, Cuiba, Aquidauana, Fazenda do Mandiore, Esplanada, Vila Bela, Campo Grande, Fazenda do Pantanal, Porto Pinasco, Coxim, Ponta Pora, Manaos, São Paulo de Olivença, the Amazon forests, the banks of the river Solimoes, Belem, Porto Velho, Guajara-Mirim, Paqueta Island, Rio de Janeiro, Goiania, Nova Friburgo, Caxias and Belo Horizonte. Bolivia came second, the following towns or villages being affected: La Paz, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Roboré, Cochabamba, and Sucre; in third place was Peru, where the traffic centred in Iquitos, Lima, Fazenda Upuni, Uruce?a, and Camiri;

FIGURE 1. - Quantities of cocaine seized

In 1958 : 3 kg 718 - In 1959 : 8 kg 460

Full size image: 22 kB, FIGURE 1. - Quantities of cocaine seized

5. During the period considered, the police of Guanabara, Mato Grosso, São Paulo and Rondonia Territory seized 12 kg 179 g of smuggled cocaine - an amount four times greater than that seized in the United States of America, which was 3 kg 164 g; this works out at 196 g of the drug per thousand inhabitants in Brazil, as compared with 19.5 g per thousand in the United States. These facts speak for themselves.

Repercussions in the international control bodies

On 5 March 1959 the Brazilian Government informed the Secretary-General of the United Nations of the gravity of the situation; there was an immediate and strong reaction to the Brazilian announcement, in particular by the Commission on Narcotic Drugs of the Economic and Social Council at its fourteenth session, held at Geneva from 27 April to 15 May 1959.

In document E/3254, the Commission draws attention to Brazil's annual report for 1957-1958, refers to the situation also existing in Cuba, Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru, and expresses its concern at the absence of full co-operation between the national authorities responsible for combating the illicit traffic.

The Commission suggested that the governments of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Paraguay and Peru should combine their efforts and work in co-operation with the international bodies concerned.

The Brazilian Government accepted this suggestion, and convened the Rio de Janeiro Conference, which was held from 21 to 25 March 1960.

Problems of the production and export of coca leaves

In its report for 1959 (document E/OB/15), the Permanent Central Opium Board states that the production of coca leaves for chewing is large and that it is the major cause of an international illicit traffic in them, which also serves to supply the clandestine manufacture of cocaine.

According to the Board, the amounts of coca leaves used for chewing between 1954 and 1957 were as follows (in tons):







9,250 9,319 9,450 9,954 37,973
129 155 14 152 450
110 100 80 32 322

Argentina, which is included in the above table, is a very small producer of coca leaves, and imports them only for a small group of workers on the northern frontier. The position is the same in Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay, Venezuela, Cuba and Mexico, where little or none is grown.

As can be seen from the above table, coca leaf chewing is fortunately decreasing, since it has not increased in proportion to indigenous population growth in the four countries mentioned.

The Rio de Janeiro Conference

The Inter-American Conference on the Illicit Traffic in Cocaine and Coca Leaves met from 21 to 25 March 1960 at the Itamarita Palace (Ministry for Foreign Affairs). It was attended by the Director of the United Nations Division of Narcotic Drugs, by the Assistant Secretary-General of Interpol, and by representatives of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Brazil, Mexico, the United States of America, Venezuela, Paraguay and Peru. Extensive work was done to secure mutual co-operation between a number of neighbouring or adjoining countries.

It must be recognized that the measures taken were so successful that seizures of smuggled coca leaves and cocaine in 1960 fell to almost nil. There is every reason to believe that the delegations of the two cocaine producing countries made a most effective approach to their respective governments, which closed down the clandestine laboratories producing the smuggled cocaine.


Brazilian Legislation in Force

It must be pointed out that existing Brazilian legislation gives the police and health authorities wide powers to combat illicit traffic in narcotic drugs anywhere in the country.

Article 1 of decree No. 780 of 28 April 1936 established the National Commission for the Control of Narcotic Drugs, which since that time has been responsible for studying and drawing up general rules for the cultivation, extraction, production, manufacture, processing, preparation, possession, import, offer, sale, purchase, exchange and transfer of narcotic drugs and for combating illicit traffic and illicit use.

The National Commission for the Control of Narcotic Drugs has its headquarters in the capital of Brazil at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, and is under the direct authority of the Minister of State. It is composed of representatives of the ministries of justice, labour, war, marine, health and customs, and two or three technical experts.

Subordinate to the National Commission for the Control of Narcotic Drugs, there are 21 State Narcotics Control Commissions, which operate in the different states of the union, and each consists of 5 members - namely, the Director of Public Health of the State, the regional attorney, a representative of the National Health Department, a representative of the medical profession of the state capital, the Director of the State Medicine and Pharmacy Control Department, and the head of the police department or his representative, who is generally the narcotics officer.

It must be added that the network of subordinate authorities for combating illicit traffic in narcotic drugs includes 21 administrative units - namely, the 21 state police authorities coming under the federal police department, which makes a total of 220 officials mainly concerned with narcotics.

When the existence of an illicit traffic in a particular drug is established, the National Commission and the State Commissions co-ordinate their activities and call on the services of the local police, as was done in connexion with the recent cocaine smuggling.

Offences and Penalties

Articles 33 to 40 of decree law No. 891 of 25 November 1938 provide that anyone who facilitates the acquisition, use or administration of any narcotic substance, or who, without complying with the prescribed legal formalities, sells, gives, retains, carries, sends, or exchanges narcotic drugs, shall be liable to a term of imprisonment of one to five years and to a fine of up to 5,000 cruzeiros.

If the accused is a pharmacist, his right to practise his profession may be suspended for a period of 3 to 6 years. If he is a doctor, dentist or veterinary surgeon, the period of suspension may be 4 to 10 years.

Suspended sentences and conditional release are not granted in the case of the above-mentioned offences.

Internment and Loss of Civil Rights

During the present campaign against smuggling and illicit traffic in cocaine from Bolivia and Peru, it has been found that the smugglers are not generally drug addicts. Only five traffickers have shown obvious symptoms of addiction.

In cases of addiction, Brazilian legislation requires:

  1. Compulsory confidential notification of the local health authorities;

  2. Refusal to treat the addict at home;

  3. Admission to a hospital, which may be compulsory or optional according to the circumstances.

Compulsory hospitalization can be carried out only on an order of the court, when it is shown that proper treatment in a hospital is necessary or is in the public interest. A judicial decision is required in all cases.

Loss of civil rights may be partial, in which case it corresponds to relative incapacity, or complete, when it corresponds to total incapacity, in accordance with articles 5 and 6 of the Civil Code.

Narcotics Register

The purpose of control over the issue of medical prescriptions for the use of narcotic drugs is to prevent drug addiction and the illicit sale of narcotics.

Brazilian law now provides that pharmacies may only make up such prescriptions if they are signed by a doctor whose qualifications are duly registered; that the prescriptions must first have been seen by the competent health authorities; and that they must be written on official forms and give reasons for the use of the drug. Such prescriptions may not be repeated until 48 hours have elapsed and they may not be repeated over a period of more than seven days.

Members of a profession who use their qualifications in order to prescribe or administer narcotic drugs improperly may not be supplied with the official forms for prescribing such drugs. The facts must be notified to the police authorities, and where criminal responsibility is established the offenders are liable to a term of 3 to 10 years' imprisonment, a fine of 3,000 to 10,000 cruzeiros and suspension of their right to practise for 4 to 10 years.

Regional Conferences of Narcotics Police

With a view to co-ordinating the efforts and combined action of the state police authorities in the areas where the illicit traffic in cocaine and other narcotic drugs is greatest, the National Commission for the Control of Narcotic Drugs has been organizing seminars in various states of Brazil.

The first of these conferences was held at Rio de Janeiro in 1958, in the Itamarati Palace, and was attended by representatives of the narcotics departments of Rio (Guanabara State), Minas Gerais, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro State. Doctors from the health delegations of five Brazilian states were also present at the meeting.

The second conference of narcotics police was held at São Paulo on 8 and 9 May 1959. In addition to nearly all the members of the National Commission for the Control of Narcotic Drugs, it was attended by representatives of the special branches of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro State and Minas Gerais, which have the best police organizations in Brazil and which, by reason of their area and population density, have the greatest number of traffickers in cocaine, cannabis and opium derivatives.

Special Police

At these meetings between neighbouring states, the National Commission for the Control of Narcotic Drugs pointed out that traffickers show no respect for municipal, state, national or international frontiers, and it was shown that immediate steps were required to combine the action taken by the various state and municipal police authorities, who by themselves could achieve nothing in the campaign to wipe out the medico-social scourge of drug addiction.

Another point continually stressed by the Commission is the urgent need to recognize the highly specialized nature of the departments responsible for combating the misuse of toxic substances, so many of which are now available in the pharmaceutical trade.

As was pointed out at the important Inter-American Conference on the Illicit Traffic in Cocaine and Coca Leaves, held at Rio de Janeiro from 21 to 25 March 1960, in such a specialized field, one cannot go on relying on the work of technical staff improvised at a moment's notice, the continuity of which is most uncertain in the field of narcotic drugs. Above all, there is an urgent need for the technical assistance so strongly recommended by the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.

International Co-ordination

The Interpol authorities rightly emphasize the value of enforcement staff in combating traffic of a local character; but they also point out that it is well known that the illicit traffic has an international aspect, which is the most dangerous one.

Hence the need for team-work, and for permanent co-operation between the federal police services of each country or territory, since frontiers do not always constitute a serious obstacle to the criminal activities of the offenders. There is therefore an imperative need for thorough technical documentation, information and co-ordination centres in the various regions, international card indexes classified in alphabetical order, and indexes of finger prints, photographs, personal descriptions and particulars of offenders. To this end, it is also essential to keep up-to-date statistics of drug consumption, numbers of addicts, sentences passed on traffickers and the volume and nature of contraband discovered.

Frequent personal contacts are of vital importance for effective action against drug traffickers.

Educational Literature

The National Commission for the Control of Narcotic Drugs has been publishing at regular intervals a series of educational monographs, which are distributed free of charge in Brazil and the Spanish-speaking countries. They comprise the following:

  1. Brazilian cannabis (A few notes)

  2. Commentary on Brazilian legislation on the trade in, therapeutic use of, and illicit traffic in narcotic drugs

  3. Texts of Brazilian legislation in force on narcotic drugs

  4. Second conference of narcotics police

  5. Regulations for the registration and sale of narcotics

  6. Confidential report of the Brazilian delegation to the Inter-American Conference on the Illicit Traffic in Cocaine and Coca Leaves

  7. Census of drug addicts in Brazil

  8. List of narcotic drugs under international control

  9. Final Act of the First Inter-American Conference on the Illicit Trafic in Cocaine and Coca Leaves

  10. Licit consumption of narcotic drugs; situation of Brazil and South America.