Paradoxo Amazonico Foto tarso Sarraf (4).jpg

The geography of violence in the Amazon region

Professor at Universidade Estadual do Pará [State University of Pará] and member of the Fórum Brasileiro de Segurança Pública [Brazilian Public Security Forum].

Aiala Colares Couto

Translation by Silvia Benchimol, Ewerton Branco e Lucas Araújo de Oliveira


The history of conflicts in the Amazon is marked by a geography of violence involving a complexity of interests and various actors, including the State itself as one of those responsible for maintaining inequalities and the use and abuse of territories. We can state that the border economy model installs not only a social crisis, but also an ecological and epistemological crisis in the region, because of the necessity to defend the preservation of the forest and the traditional knowledge of the Amazon peoples who are facing extinction, due to the perversity of the capital system and its policy of death.

           The problems highlighted above are strongly related to the economic activities that were developed in the decades after the 1960s. Currently, such activities have been incorporated into a crisis of civilization intensified by the neoliberal agenda that turns invisible the practices, the knowledge, and the existence of the forest peoples. This crisis has legitimized and spread violence throughout the interior of the Amazon region, since these conflicts involve disputes over land ownership (land conflicts), the dispute over environmental protection areas, the dispute over control of natural resources, besides the delimitation and titling of indigenous and quilombola lands.

           On the other hand, we cannot fail to emphasize two important problems that have been added to all that has been exposed so far, narcotrafficking and the growth of criminal factions. The first evidence points to the Amazon as a frequent geographic passway of cocaine from Andean origin to Brazil, Europe, and Africa. The second is a recent phenomenon that shows the interest of groups associated to organized crime in establishing connections with the cities in the region.

           Thus, there is a spatial organization in networks where cities become nodes that, connected by landing tracks, airports, roads, and rivers, form a very well-designed structure constructed by the criminal economy, aiming at giving fluidity to the illicit goods that enter or are extracted from the region. There is a variety of illicit activities that configure zones of social instability and conflicts that contribute to the rise of violence. In addition, there are issues involving narcotrafficking and the most varied types of environmental crimes. There are also problems related to migration and the rising of organized crime factions installed in strategic areas controlling and disputing important drug trafficking routes, besides invading indigenous and riverine peoples’ territories.

           In this context, it is possible to witness an increase of violence in the Amazon, especially considering the intentional violent deaths, directly related to processes that are connected to the most varied types of crimes, with emphasis on the relationship between drug trafficking and environmental crimes, as well as the growth of organized crime factions in the region. It is important to note that in rural areas violent deaths are related to land conflicts, whereas in the cities they are associated to the presence of drug trafficking, corroborating a significant increase in the rate of intentional violent deaths.

It is noteworthy that the dynamics of organized crime in the Amazon goes beyond the territorial boundaries of the Brazilian State, thus it has transnational aspect. This transnationality of crime involves the relations in national and international faction networks operating in South America, creating a complex and complete organizational structure of illicit activities.  Organized crime action in the Amazon region in recent years has become more and more present, acting on various scales and in various activities, that even confuse the concept of legal and illegal.

It can be said that the Amazon region has long been facing problems related to social and political instability around its borders. The border is considered the place for meetings and mismatches, the place for cultural and symbolic exchanges, but it is also the place for tension and conflicts. The Amazon border, especially on the borders with Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru, is constituted as a zone of instability in relation to regional security, because through this region there is an integration and connection of illegal networks of cocaine trafficking, where these networks are produced from the spatial interaction that involves the rivers and the cities of the region.

             In this scenario, organized crime factions operating in Brazil began to consider the Amazon as a strategic region for the geopolitics of the narcotrafficking, constituted by this transborder relation involving multiple agents, each one with its specific function in the universe of crime. Factions from the Southeast region of Brazil, such as the Comando Vermelho (CV-RJ) and the Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC-SP) began to have interests in operating in the border areas, as well as in cities considered important for drug flow.

            The interest of these factions is related to the search for control of the main drug trafficking routes in the Amazon. However, some local factions understood better the mechanisms of illegal networks through the Amazon. Thus, the states of Amazonas and Pará, considered the major "passways" for the circulation of illicit goods (drugs, woods, and smuggled minerals), became the locus of rising regionalized criminal groups, such as the factions Familia do Norte (FDN-AM) and Comando A (CCA-PA).

            The state of Amazonas is a major gateway for cocaine of Peruvian origin and skank of Colombian origin, because it has the most influential drug trafficking routes: the Solimões River and the Javali River. The Solimões route has become the stage for disputes and conflicts involving pirates from the Coarí region, members of the FDN, and members of the PCC. The latter, who held control of the area, arrived in the region through the state of Mato Grosso and Acre, making several alliances along the way. On the other hand, the route of the Javari River is one of the most complex routes today due to the presence of the faction "Os Crias", emerged from the dissidence of FDN members and that operates in the Triple Border area, controlling the most important route used by Peruvian narcotraffickers. Besides this, we can also highlight that the Javari valley has a series of public security problems that affect the indigenous communities and the riverine peoples in the region, who suffer attacks from miners, loggers, and smugglers.

            Finally, the state of Pará, starting from the city of Altamira, stands out with a large transit area where rivers, roads, and private airports are used by narcotraffickers to transport cocaine. Especially Altamira, an area of dispute between rival factions, mainly after the arrival of the CV rivaling the CCA. Thus, the complexity that is established in the Amazon involves a network of criminals who are related to the narcotrafficking and to environmental crimes, and this dynamic weakens the public security policies, negatively affecting the forest peoples exposed to a dynamic of violence.