Bolivia’s hottest border: the bioceanic route

Hector Velasco reports for Pagina Siete:

The hottest border of the bioceanic route

Road by Corumbá, Brazil, and Puerto Suarez, Bolivia, circulate daily truckloads of goods and people in both countries. There are smuggling and drug trafficking.

2013-04-10 09.02.01 amThe train that goes from the dusty Bolivian town of Puerto Suarez, on the border with Brazil, to Santa Cruz, the economic capital of Bolivia, departs each time with less passengers.

The bioceanic route that connects the Atlantic with the Pacific, and connects to Brazil, Bolivia, Peru and Chile through 3,450 km of paved road, reduced significantly the road trip time and has become an advantageous option.

But a border stalked by drug trafficking, bribery, smuggling of cars and goods, as well as the flow of illegal labor, warns that not everything there is progress.

With 3,400 kilometers of border shared, Brazil and Bolivia, the country more rich and the poorest in South America, respectively, converge on several points, but perhaps none so active, and so sharp contrasts and problems such as which unites the Puerto Suárez Bolivia with the Brazilian city of Corumba, Mato Grosso do Sul, 1,400 kilometers from Brasília.

Here, there are daily truckloads of goods and people on both sides of the border, many in search of a job or a police oversight to enter drug hidden in clothing, in double-bottomed suitcases and even genitals.

2013-04-10 09.03.05 amLast year were seized 980 kilos of cocaine at this border point. According to the UN, Bolivia is the world’s third producer of cocaine and Brazil, its main target.

“But in recent months the apprehensions of drug fell drastically. This year they haven’t even seized 50 kilos. Something is changing: or the route or means of transport of drugs”, says Alexandre do Nascimento, Director of the federal police in Corumbá.

The denouncement gesture

Hardly stands out the day and already faces a row of people snaking the position of Brazilian migration under a merciless downpour. Juan Quispe, a 25-year-old, and his wife, Gabriela, 22, along with their two babies, are back to Bolivia after two years without visiting their country.

Quispe has worked for five years illegally in Sao Paulo in a garment factory, but he was able to regularize their situation after the birth of their first daughter, in Brazil, but not before paying a fine.

Like him, many in the waiting-line are Bolivian, which like the Brazilians do not require visa to move as tourists between the two countries.

Brazilian police estimated that up to February around 300 Bolivian daily crossed the border. Almost none wants to talk about their plans while waiting their turn. Brazilian Federal agents, behind a glass, interrogate, stamp entry-forms and seek betraying gestures.

“The majority says that they are tourists, but many come to go to work in Sao Paulo, where it is known that they are submitted by other Bolivians who migrated or Brazilians, in near slavery proportions”, said an officer of the federal police under reserve.

At night other agents, supported by trained dogs and an elite body, seek drug on passenger buses. They are almost 70 troops who patrol daily on land and in the waters of the Paraguay River. But drug trafficking and the intense flow of Bolivians who want to appear as tourists are not the only concerns.

The contrasts

“I’m going to tell a difference between the two sides, the Brazilian and Bolivian,” warns Rubén Galvis, a Bolivian trucker, 27 years old, who for the last two years runs along the route between Corumbá and Santa Cruz with goods of all kinds.

“In Brazil the police approaching with a fines-book in hand. In Bolivia police approaches with nothing… Does not control, they want money to let you go,” he says. The complaint is unanimous among Bolivian and Brazilian drivers who gather in the customs of Corumbá to wait, on average 12 hours, before their load [cargo] is released.

The stories in Portuguese and Spanish at this place are common: Brazilian side the law is a rule, but of the Bolivian, an exception.

“In Brazil we are allowed to drive barefoot, but when I try to explain that to the Bolivian police, he only makes the gesture so I give money because if not, do not let me go,” says Paulo Assis, 48, and Brazilian carrier of petroleum products.

The issue is already a concern among authorities on both sides.

“We must not generalize, but already those claims came to me: that over there, people are not treated or dealt with more correctly, within the law”, admits the Mayor of Corumbá, Paulo Duarte.

With 105 thousand inhabitants, 20% of them of Bolivian origin, Corumbá is the gateway to the East of Bolivia. 15 Kilometers, the Bolivian side is Puerto Suarez, a town of 26,000 inhabitants (AFP).

Published by Bolivian Thoughts

Senior managerial experience on sustainable development projects.

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