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”Ant trade” In Drugs Swamps Brazilian Postal System

SAO PAULO (dpa) – It came as no shock recently when postal controller Joao Peres opened a carton and discovered 500 tablets of the illicit drug ecstasy hidden inside several Bibles.

Over the past several months postal employees in the South American country have found cocaine stashed inside irons, vacuum cleaners, tubes of skin emulsion creams and packages of condoms. Sometimes the drug is simply found inside normal envelopes.

Ecstasy tablets are being found on a virtually weekly basis inside international parcels containing stuffed toy animals, CDs or rolls of toilet paper.

“The so-called ‘ant trade’ involving the transport of small amounts of drugs via the mail has increased drastically this year and is flourishing as never before,” Post Office spokesman Fabio Marchini reported.

For months the police have been warning that Brazil has started to become one of the most important drug transit countries in the world. The relatively cheap cocaine from Bolivia and Colombia can be sent, with the promise of big profits, to Europe, but also increasingly to Japan and such African countries as Angola, South Africa and Nigeria.

It is believed that mafia organisations from Eastern Europe and Nigeria are the most active in these mail smuggling operations in Brazil.

At the same time, Marchini says that the mail parcels with ecstasy tablets which are meant for the entire South American market derive chiefly from The Netherlands, as well as from other countries of Europe.

“The Bibles came from London,” he said, referring to the recent shipment where ecstasy tablets were found. With controls at airports being tightened and perfected on, the narcotics mafia is now turning to the postal service as an alternate route for the smuggling.

Police say the “ant trade” is lucrative, since the average shipment of 200 grams of cocaine can fetch at least 20,000 dollars in Africa or Japan. The price in Europe is 20 per cent lower.

The drug is purchased in Bolivia and Columbia at only one-tenth the price.

“As a transit country, we are being virtually bombarded with drugs,” Marchini said.

In the first 10 months of 2001, controllers found 90 kilograms of cocaine and 2,500 ecstasy tablets just in the postal buildings in Sao Paulo used for international mail.

“Of course, the actual volume of drugs sent in the mail is a lot larger, because we can only make random tests on only a fraction of the parcels,” Marchini said.

Despite the success in intercepting drugs going through the mail system, there has so far been not a single arrest in Brazil. The federal police have not yet been able to find out how the drug is to make it to its final destination.

What does appear certain is that the people listed as the addressees are not the real recipients and so are innocent. The parcel of Bibles, for example, was meant for a student in Sao Paulo.

“He convinced us that he had nothing to do with it,” policeman Gilberto Cezar said. “We have to watch out that we don’t do anyone an injustice.”

He admitted that this all poses a puzzle, which is why help is being sought from the international police organisation Interpol.

Colombia’s drugs mafia is believed to have set up genuine “sales outlets” deep in the jungles of Brazil in view of the rising demand for the use of the method of using the Brazilian postal service. The mafias are working closely with Brazilian drug dealers in the slums of the country’s large cities.

In these slums, or “favelas”, where the police say it is not only the small consumers but also the foreign mafias who cover their drug needs, the drug bosses have found the best working conditions, chiefly because the police rarely dare to go into these areas.

The slums also provide cheap labour. The small-time culprits known as “aviaozinhos” – small airplanes – are only 11 to 14 years old and are willing to work for the drug bosses for as little as a sandwich – and a firearm.

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