Brazil struggles with human drug train from Bolivia

Mon Mar 2, 2009 8:55pm EST
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By Raymond Colitt

CORUMBA, Brazil (Reuters) - Bolivian street vendor Bigmar Arancibia says he became desperate as business went so bad that he could no longer feed his wife and children. Now he sits in jail in this Brazilian border town and probably won't see them for years.

Police caught him with 3.5 kg (7 pounds) of coca paste in his bag as he apparently followed thousands of drug runners on a well-worn route from the highlands of South America's poorest country to the cities of Brazil, its much wealthier neighbor.

"I didn't have enough money to live," Arancibia, 33, sobbed while crouched in the heat of a crowded cell in Corumba.

He claims a friend put the drugs in his bag before he left his home town of Santa Cruz to buy merchandise in Corumba, but police say they find the story unlikely.

Poverty drives the drug runners to take terrible risks. Some women stuff baseball-sized packages in their vaginas, and others swallow capsules packed with cocaine. One woman spent 30 days in a hospital to expel 98 capsules she swallowed.

"It's a human train of contraband. Corumba is one of Brazil's main ports of entry for drugs and arms," said Inspector Mario Nomoto of Brazil's Federal Police.

Drugs smuggled through here fuel violence in Brazilian cities like Rio de Janeiro and addiction in Madrid or London.

Brazilian authorities now fear an increase in drugs from Bolivia after it banned the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) last year for allegedly spying on the government and supporting opposition leaders. Washington had been spending $25 million a year to fight drugs in Bolivia.   Continued...

<p>Bolivian street vendor Bigmar Arancibia (R) gives an interview inside a jail in the city of Corumba on the border with Bolivia January 14, 2009. REUTERS/Jamil Bittar</p>