Cargo theft in Brazil rose some 10 percent last year, a trend expected to continue this year due to sophisticated gangs and slow police response.
BY CARLOS CAICEDO
On February 16, 2013, a 30-strong criminal gang overcame guards at the Central Logistics of Brazil (CLB) center in Campinas, São Paulo, and forced them to load millions of dollars-worth of mobile phones and tablets into 10 trucks and 8 cars. Police have since recovered cargo with an estimated value of $12.5 million dollars, although this represents just 20 percent of the total value stolen. This major assault on a logistics center operated by the Spanish multinational Celestica, which accounts for 60 percent of transportation of imported mobile phones and tablets in Brazil, demonstrates the sophistication and capability of the criminal gangs targeting cargo.
In addition to IT equipment, agricultural products, such as soybeans, soy oil, maize and seeds, as well as fertilizers and pesticides are favored targets. The fact that railways are under-developed, and therefore most agricultural products have to be transported less efficiently and securely by road, makes them vulnerable targets.
RIO AND SAO PAULO
In Rio de Janeiro State, in 2012, cargo theft rose 20 percent compared with the previous year; however, the increase happened in and around the city of Rio, while it fell in inner-city municipalities. The hotspots near the city of Rio were Niteroi and Baixada Fluminense. The increase in the latter is closely related to police security operations in Rio's slums, which have forced criminal gangs to relocate. In São Paulo, cargo theft increased 5 percent, with 7,342 incidents, but there was an 18 percent increase in the suburbs of Greater São Paulo. The data suggests a trend towards the targeting of more densely- populated zones. Corrupt truck drivers compound the situation by re-routing cargo to criminals and reporting it stolen.
The authorities are taking measures to address the problem. The number of Highway Police officers is expected to increase by 50 percent in the next two years. In January 2013, the traffic council CONTRAN also decided to install microchips in vehicles for monitoring purposes. The scheme is part of the delayed 2006 plan of the national cargo and vehicle robbery prevention and surveillance system, which mandated the creation of the automatic vehicle identification system (SINIAV). CONTRAN's implementation is due to be completed by June 2014, but no antennae have yet been installed and the tendering process has not started. The announced measures are likely to reduce cargo robbery; however, we doubt they will be in place by 2014. Meanwhile, organized crime gangs are already regularly using jamming equipment to block tracking device signals.
Carlos Caicedo is head of the Latin America division at Exclusive Analysis, a UK-based global risk consultancy recently acquired by IHS.