Parques Nacionais do Jamanxim e do Rio Novo, Pará Foto Vinícius Mendonça Ibama.jpg

Amazon: criminal networks and institutional fragility

Professor at State University of Pará and member of the Brazilian Public Security Forum.

Aiala Colares Couto

Translated by Silvia Benchimol and Ewerton Branco (UFPA/ET-Multi)


The growing presence of organized crime in the Brazilian Amazon has made its populations vulnerable, especially indigenous peoples, quilombolas and riverside dwellers. This vulnerability is associated with the intensification of a variety of crimes that, when installed in Amazon cities, create illicit networks not only for the exploitation of natural resources, but also for the logistics that allow the interaction of drug flows such as cocaine, marijuana and skank.

The Amazon has become a great corridor for drugs and a source of mechanisms that feed the smuggling of wood and minerals. The big issue in relation to these problems is the fact that today there is a connection or interaction between these criminal activities making them economically and politically stronger with major implications for the region.

It urges to emphasize that since 1980 the Amazon has been explored as a compulsory transit area for cocaine produced in the Andean countries (Bolivia, Colombia and Peru), and for that purpose, drug traffickers have established channels of communication within Brazilian territory as a way of guaranteeing the proper dynamics of these illegal networks. Thus, several cities in the Amazon have become nodes of a very well-structured network of organized crime.

In addition, the debate on environmental crimes related to the advance of predatory economic activities must also be taken into account in this scenario, which includes the increase in exploitation related to the timber sector and the advance of illegal mining on areas of environmental protection. In the latter case, from the 1960s onwards, the State has played a fundamental role in encouraging a development model that did not consider the limits of nature, a model defined as a ‘frontier economy’, which generated a series of ecological imbalances.

However, in this second decade of the 21st century, the types of felony above mentioned, when interlinked, claim for a redefinition of organized crime, as they put us in the need to understand the inter-institutional relations which ensue from the integration involving drug trafficking, smuggling of wood and illegal mining.

First and foremost, it is necessary to ask ourselves: how did the fragility of environmental policies and inspection bodies foster the strengthening of criminal activities in the Amazon? The answer to this question is not quite simple, but there is a crucial starting point if we consider the constant interference of the current federal government in IBAMA, FUNAI and even in the Federal Police, associated with the cut of resources and that the scrapping of these bodies, was, to a large extent, responsible for the worsening of the vulnerable condition in which forest peoples find themselves.

This is how indigenous communities have their territories invaded by miners, quilombola communities have their lands taken by loggers and mining companies and riverside people are enticed by drug traffickers. Apparently, the Amazon is immersed in a complexity of social and environmental conflicts, that is, presenting itself as a troublesome region, from the point of view of regional security.

Finally, we must emphasize that one of the tasks of the next government will be to take care of the Amazon, preserve its nature and protect its populations. Confronting the organized crime locally established and its multiple connections will only be possible by means of institutional strengthening and the resumption of institutional policies for the preservation and protection of the forest. That is the only way by which we might envisage possibilities of achieving the most desired sustainability.