Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Brazil's Drug War Extends to Its Congress

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Brazil's Drug War Extends to Its Congress

Article excerpt

DRUG trafficking has become a serious problem in Brazil in the last five years, but its reach has for the first time extended to the national Congress.

The July arrest of a federal deputy's brothers - caught allegedly with half a ton of cocaine - and unproven suggestions that the deputy himself was involved, have brought home to many Brazilians how widespread the drug trade has become in Rondonia, an Amazon state that has an 840 mile border with Bolivia.

The deputy, Jabes Rabelo, represents this thinly-populated western state that stretches 540 miles across, boasting only one paved highway. In Rondonia, the cocaine business mixes with gold mining and illegal woodcutting.

"Lots of people come from far away to this region and suddenly, they are doing relatively well, financially," says Sonia Maria Angelim, director of the local federal police bureau in Guajara Mirim, Rondonia, a small town that straddles the border formed by the Mamore river. The town of 20,000 residents is full of splendid homes, late-model cars, and, unlike many towns in the Brazilian hinterland, paved streets.

In a phone interview, Ms. Angelim tells of how traffickers come to Guajara Mirim with cars stolen in southern Brazil, and sell them across the border in Bolivia for cocaine. In July, the townspeople protested when police arrested a respected local pharmacist because he had three tons of chemicals in storage.

"It was more chemicals than this city could consume," the policewoman says. "We deduced it would be sold to Bolivians for (cocaine) refining."

So far, there is no direct evidence Deputy Rabelo was involved with his brothers' purported cocaine trade, although many Brazilians assume so. One brother was carrying a fake congressional identification card when arrested, and investigators are trying to determine if Rabelo issued it, giving his brother the privileges of a congressional aide.

Congressmen enjoy the privilege of parliamentary immunity from prosecution. But Rabelo's immunity has been revoked so he could be prosecuted for receiving a stolen car, a crime for which police say they have the evidence.

"In the last 40 years, Congress has never given (the judiciary) permission to prosecute a deputy," says federal Deputy Jose Elias Murad, who heads a congressional committee to investigate drug trafficking. …

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