Businessmen, taxi and truck drivers in Ciudad del Este blocked this week the Friendship Bridge that links the Paraguayan city with Brazil's Foz de Iguazu in protest over strict customs controls on the Brazilian side.
Paraguayan radio stations reported that the bridge over the Parana River was blocked on the Paraguayan side around noon by taxis, trucks and other vehicles stranding thousands of shoppers on both sides of the international border. Demonstrators only opened the blockade for a few minutes in the afternoon to allow an estimated 3.000 people cross back over to Brazil.
The blocking of the bridge came in response to the tightening of Brazilian controls on the transport of goods from Ciudad del Este, which is Paraguay's main trade center. According to the Paraguayan Import Center, some 50,000 small Brazilian shoppers cross the bridge every week to buy products in Ciudad del Este, mostly computers, electronic devices, perfumes, liquor and other imported items which are extremely dear in Brazil.
Brazilian authorities claim the bridge is one of the main spots for introducing counterfeit and smuggled goods, including weapons and drugs, all of which are sold in large cities like Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, where police battling crime have had to face sophisticated weapons including rockets and bazookas.
Brazilian customs announced Monday that starting Tuesday they would confiscate any vehicle crossing from Ciudad del Este found carrying imported non declared merchandise. Only vehicles belonging to authorized companies engaged in international transport of merchandise would be allowed.
The decision affects an estimated a thousand taxis and vans, as well as 400 motorcycle drivers who regularly cross to Brazil delivering goods on request from Brazilian shoppers. Ciudad del Este business association and local authorities were planning to meet with Paraguayan President Nicanor Duarte to inform him of the situation.