More Paraguay News

Paraguay Struggles to Overcome Challenges in Crop Substitution

0
A group of farmers in Paraguay announced they might return to marijuana cultivation, revealing the limits and challenges that crop substitution programs are facing throughout the region. On October 1, members of the Farmers Committee Association (Asociación de Comités de Productores) in Kamba Rembe, a town in Paraguay’s southern San Pedro department, announced that they might return to marijuana farming. The announcement came after the Paraguayan government allegedly failed to comply with a series of marijuana crop substitution assistance projects, reported Última Hora. Daniel Romero, an association leader, said that “the situation has become untenable. Families are going hungry. They have nothing left to eat, and many unfortunately decided to go back to growing marijuana if we don’t have an answer from the authorities this week.”

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Paraguay

Paraguay is currently the main marijuana producer in the Southern Cone region of South America, primarily feeding markets in Argentina, Brazil and Chile. Most of the nearly 5,000 hectares of marijuana farms in the country are concentrated in or near Kamba Rembe, with others located in the departments of Amambay, Concepción and Canindeyú, according to the country’s National Anti-Drug Secretariat (Secretaría Nacional Antidrogas – SENAD). Kamba Rembe dominated both headlines and the attention of former President Horacio Cartes’ administration in 2015, when its residents protested in favor of marijuana cultivation as a response to the government’s supposed absence from the area. The demonstration resulted in the announcement of a series of programs to replace marijuana with sesame crops. The government of recently elected President Mario Abdó has also indicated that it must “offer alternatives to the residents of the area in such a way that they stop farming drugs and start doing legal work.” The Abdó administration also promised to implement Agriculture Ministry programs to mechanize small-scale farming for sesame cultivation in the area.

InSight Crime Analysis

The farmers’ announcement of their likely return to marijuana cultivation as a result of the government’s alleged failure reveals the flaws in imposing legal crops that might not be economically viable. According to Kamba Rembe farmers, cultivating sesame, as proposed by the government, would not help them generate enough income to survive. One kilogram of marijuana sells for up to $30, at least thirty times more than a kilogram of sesame or manioc, another crop commonly grown in the area, according to an investigation by the newspaper La Nación. Nearly 80 percent of the 4,500 farmers in Kamba Rembe cultivate marijuana. Meanwhile, the Paraguayan government eradicated nearly 2,500 hectares of marijuana crops in 2017, a new record. But that only constitutes half of the land devoted to farming the illicit crop, a sign that this strategy may not be at a functional level either. However, drug raids are on the rise with a recent highlight being the June seizure of nearly 14 metric tons of marijuana in San Pedro, the same department where Kamba Rembe is located. Authorities have linked the seized shipment to an individual who was arrested just a few kilometers from the town.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Drug Policy

Paraguay is not alone in facing criticism regarding its crop substitution policies. Colombia is perhaps the region’s clearest example of a country battling increasing coca cultivation. Its government has also been accused of noncompliance with illicit crop substitution programs, which was one of the items set out in the historic peace agreement signed with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) in 2016. While the Colombian government has made efforts to implement its crop substitution programs, they have not gone far enough, and the programs have still not reached many illicit crop farmers. InSight Crime field research has shown that this directly increases the risk of expanding illegal crop cultivation. Add to this the government’s continued policies of aggressive eradication that include the use of glyphosate, which has incited social protest and damaged the local communities’ confidence that the state is complying with the alternative strategies it agreed to. Ironically, the push behind both the repression and substitution initiatives did not prevent Colombia from registering record levels of coca crops in 2017. In some of the poorest and most remote regions in Latin America, small-scale, local farmers may inevitably see the cultivation of illegal crops as an activity that will bring them high returns despite the risk of facing authorities, a risk that only diminishes with a lack of state presence.

Paraguay’s New President: All Bark and No Bite?

0
Paraguay’s new president says he will focus his security policy on ending judicial corruption and organized crime, but his background and the credibility of those around him have cast doubt on just how feasible his proposals are. Conservative Mario Abdo Benítez, who beat his liberal opponent Efraín Alegre in Paraguay’s presidential race by less than four points, began his term on August 15. The politician and businessman amassed most of his economic and political capital with the help of the right-wing Colorado Party, to which his father also belonged. The latter served as private secretary to Colonel Alfredo Stroessner during his 35-year dictatorship. Abdo has been a vocal critic of his predecessor and fellow Colorado Party member, former President Horacio Cartes. As a senator in 2017, he led the opposition against Cartes’ presidential reelection proposal. In terms of security and organized crime, Paraguay’s new president has publicly said that “political will is lacking and security policy management is inefficient.” He has also stated that the country needs “intelligence policies,” and expressed an interest in receiving assistance from the United States.

SEE ALSO: Paraguay News and Profiles

While the details of Abdo’s plans to combat crime remain unknown, the selection of his cabinet members can provide some insight into the new administration’s security policies. Retired general and future minister of defense, Bernardino Soto Estigarribia, who had already held that position once under Cartes until 2015, told media outlet Última Hora of his intention to strengthen the army and increase its capabilities. Meanwhile, Abdo’s newly selected head of the National Anti-Drug Secretariat (Secretaría Nacional Antidrogas – SENAD), former Senator Arnaldo Giuzzio, has signaled that he will give priority to microtrafficking in his efforts to fight the country’s crime. He also promised to thoroughly investigate collusion between drug traffickers and government officials. During his term in Congress, Guizzio singled out several legislators for their alleged ties to drug trafficking. But he has been questioned as well, facing accusations of ineffectiveness and inexperience when he served in the anti-corruption unit of the Attorney General’s Office. Abdo’s campaign manager, Juan Ernesto Villamayor, will be the country’s future interior minister. He told media outlet EFE that he will set his sights on combating the Paraguayan People’s Army (Ejército del Pueblo Paraguayo – EPP) in the north of the country, adding that he would consolidate the often-criticized Joint Task Force (Fuerza de Tarea Conjunta – FTC), which was created specifically to focus on the guerrilla group. As his campaign was winding down, Paraguay’s new president also committed to unleashing an all-out war against corruption and impunity in the country, an undoubtedly welcome promise, although difficult to keep. The court cases that have hit the most roadblocks are related to crimes committed during the dictatorship — when Abdo’s father held one of the government’s most powerful positions. But at the same time, other cases of corruption, smuggling and drug trafficking linked to members of the Paraguayan elite have been stymied in impunity as well.

InSight Crime Analysis

It is true that, as Abdo said, the Cartes government was largely unsuccessful in its fight against organized crime. The former president himself, as well as his uncle, have been linked to drug trafficking and cigarette smuggling. But it is also clear that Paraguay’s new president represents the same interests of the political and military elites that have governed the country almost without interruption for the past seventy years. In combating organized crime, many of the new challenges Abdo will have to face stem from Paraguay’s growing role in international cocaine trafficking, including the increasing presence of Brazilian criminal groups, namely the Red Command (Comando Vermelho) and the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC). They have taken root primarily in the tri-border area Paraguay shares with Brazil and Argentina, and in some instances the Brazilian gangs have co-opted police and government officials. While Abdo has not yet made any specific proposals on the fight against transnational organized crime groups, the new head of state has already reached out to the presidents of Brazil and Argentina on regional security issues, and they seem to have coordinated their respective zero-tolerance approaches to crime. However, many have not hesitated to sharply question the promises of Abdo’s newly chosen ministers to simultaneously strengthen the FTC and the army. Their skepticism is likely due to the ineffectiveness the institutions have already demonstrated in attempting to quell the activities of both the EPP and marijuana growers in Paraguay’s north, despite their generous budgets. Also unclear is what incentive Abdo has to remedy the judicial corruption that has benefited his family for so many years. While his father admittedly spent two years in prison for illicit enrichment, many of the more violent crimes for which he was accused during the dictatorship have gone unpunished since his death in March 2013. Abdo’s relationships with previous Paraguayan administrations landed multimillion-dollar state contracts for his businesses, which include Almacenamiento y Distribución de Asfalto (Aldía S.A.) and Creando Tecnología S.A. (Createc S.A.). Between 2010 and 2014 the two companies received state contracts for approximately $18.5 million and $3.8 million, respectively. Although media outlet ABC Color reported that Abdo’s businesses were not granted government contracts between 2014 and 2017, in part due to his differences with the Cartes government, shortly after his victory in Paraguay’s primaries in December 2017, Aldía was awarded another state contract for $1.7 million. But it is not just Abdo’s clear conflict of interest in being both a state contractor and the president that causes potential concern. Add to this the fact that multiple members of his cabinet have been accused of involvement with corruption cases, and some have even favored impunity for egregious human rights violations and other crimes committed during Paraguay’s dictatorship. The future of the country’s fight against corruption appears to have little chance of the bright start that was promised.

Marijuana Trafficking Ring Bribed Paraguay Officials for Protection

0
Paraguay authorities have dismantled a trafficking network tied to officials in a major marijuana-producing region bordering Brazil, highlighting the widespread and systematic corruption that has long facilitated the country’s role as South America’s main illegal marijuana producer. Nine alleged members of a marijuana trafficking ring were arrested on August 1 in the marijuana-producing Canindeyú department’s capital city Salto del Guairá near Paraguay’s eastern border with Brazil. According to prosecutors, the year-long investigation that led to the arrests revealed a “well-structured ‘protection system’” composed of current and former police officers, soldiers, prosecutors and customs officials who accepted bribes from the trafficking group in exchange for turning a blind eye to drug shipments and alerting the network to investigations and raids. During the operation, authorities seized handwritten documents detailing the bribe payments, as well as more than a dozen vehicles, several boats, semi-automatic weapons and nearly 16 tons of marijuana valued at approximately $8 million. Among those arrested were Flaviano Giménez, identified as the alleged leader and main financier of the trafficking group, his son and alleged second-in-command Flavio Junior Giménez Spaini and alleged drug transporter Jorge Daniel Zorrilla Vera. Wilson Gauto Campuzano, the assistant prosecutor for the Attorney’s General’s anti-drug unit in Salto Guiará, was arrested for allegedly accepting bribes to pass along intelligence to the criminal group. Former soldier Jorge Daniel Zorrilla was arrested for allegedly managing the storage of the drugs. Twin brothers Wilson Rubén Cáceres González and Wilson Darío Cáceres González, who is also an ex-police officer, are accused of helping move the drugs across Canindeyú. They remain fugitives, Paraguayan news outlet ABC Color reported. Several police officers accused of accepting bribes have also been dismissed.

SEE ALSO: Paraguay News and Profile

According to investigators, the trafficking scheme involved transporting tons of marijuana from a remote plantation through various cities in the department via the main highways, paying bribes along the way. Once the drug shipments reached the departmental capital Salto del Guairá, they were stored in a facility near the local customs agency and then moved to clandestine ports on the Paraná river. From there, go-fast boats would traffic the marijuana across the river into neighboring Brazil. Prosecutor Marcelo Pecci told ABC Color that investigators are now using the seized documents cataloging the bribes as a “big puzzle” to advance their understanding of the network and determine whether or not the group may have also used their protected route to traffic contraband like guns and cigarettes.

InSight Crime Analysis

The trafficking network recently dismantled in one of Paraguay’s main marijuana-producing regions illustrates how entrenched corruption has made the country South America’s top illegal marijuana producer and facilitates the drug’s transport across the border with Brazil. Paraguayan police officers regularly accept bribes to either ignore or actively protect cannabis plantations and drug shipments moving through the country and across its borders. In recent years, many local and national politicians have also been accused of involvement in marijuana trafficking, and corrupt judges have allegedly ensured impunity for traffickers. Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes’ administration recently intensified marijuana seizures and eradication, as well as cooperation with neighboring countries. But production seems to be booming anyway, in part because farmers lack alternatives, officials routinely accept bribes and selling the drug for international consumption is highly lucrative. Brazil is by far the top consumer, with an estimated 80 percent of the illegal cannabis grown in Paraguay destined for the neighboring country. The latest arrests in the Paraguay-Brazil border region highlight the integral role that corrupt officials play in protecting the production and transport of the drug. This deep corruption even appears to be paving the way for Brazil’s biggest criminal organization, the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC), to expand its reach in the border region and even into Paraguay’s capital Asunción.

Arrests Suggest Crooked Cops Are Aiding PCC’s Expansion in Paraguay

The arrest of an alleged Brazilian crime boss, a purported collaborator and a policeman working as a bodyguard in Paraguay’s capital city illustrates how police corruption and sophisticated tactics may be facilitating the expansion of Brazil’s most powerful crime group. Paraguayan authorities arrested Eduardo Aparecido de Almeida, alias “Pisca,” an alleged leader of the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC), on July 18 in Paraguay’s capital Asunción. Paraguay’s Attorney General’s Office identifies Pisca as the second-in-command for the PCC’s Paraguayan faction known as “Raio X,” while the country’s National Anti-Drug Secretariat (Secretaría Nacional Antidrogas – SENAD) call him the group’s “regional boss.” The two Paraguayan institutions collaborated with Brazil’s federal police in the investigation that lead to Pisca’s arrest. Lorena Ledesma, the Paraguayan prosecutor leading the investigation, told Paraguay’s Radio 970 AM program that Pisca was living for at least a month in a “very secure home” in Asunción with closed-circuit monitoring of the blocks surrounding the luxury property, which had been rented using false personal documents. These security cameras alerted Pisca to the arrival of authorities, but when he attempted to flee on foot, SENAD officials apprehended him. According to Ledesma, Pisca is an “active member” of the PCC in charge of “coordinating the connections” between the Brazilian group and counterparts in Bolivia and Paraguay for the trafficking of drugs.

SEE ALSO: PCC News and Profile

News outlet ABC Color reported that Paraguayan authorities suspect that Pisca may have been involved in dividing up the more than $11 million stolen by the PCC in a sophisticated commando-style heist in the border city Ciudad del Este last year. ABC’s sources suggest that Pisca may have fled from Brazil with his family a few months ago seeking refuge in Asunción after tensions exploded between PCC members over the distribution of the money. Paraguayan authorities quickly moved to extradite Pisca to Brazil, where he is wanted for his alleged involvement in crimes ranging from drug trafficking and criminal association, to kidnapping and homicide, as well as for escaping a São Paulo prison. And within the same day of his arrest, Pisca was turned over to Brazil’s federal police. In addition, authorities arrested another Brazilian national identified as Ricardo Moraes Alves, described as a “close collaborator” of the alleged PCC boss. Carlos Alfredo Mendoza, a Paraguayan national police officer, was also arrested on accusations of serving as Pisca’s personal body guard and “providing his identification documents to the Brazilian so that he could move around the city,” Ledesma told Radio 970 AM. Following Mendoza’s arrest, the commissioner and deputy commissioner of his police unit were discharged pending investigation because Mendoza was scheduled to be on duty at the time authorities apprehended him.

InSight Crime Analysis

The arrest of an alleged PCC leader in Paraguay’s capital far from the border with Brazil may indicate that the powerful criminal organization is deepening its penetration into the neighboring country with the help of corrupt police officers. The PCC have been battling in recent years to establish strongholds in towns like Pedro Juan Caballero and Ciudad del Este in Paraguay’s eastern marijuana-producing region bordering Brazil, possibly by sub-contracting local groups as well as sending Brazilian members. But Pisca’s arrest marks the first time Paraguayan authorities have tracked down a presumed PCC leader in the capital, which sits closer to the country’s western border with Argentina.

SEE ALSO: Paraguay News and Profile

The seeming expansion of the PCC beyond the strategically important border region appears to have been facilitated by collusion with members of the country’s national police force, which has a long history of corruption. According to Paraguayan authorities, Pisca was likely able to enter the country with false identification documents, rented an upscale mansion and moved around Asunción with ease using his police partner’s own identity. This is also likely how he evaded police attention for several months. It’s unclear how Pisca’s arrest will impact the PCC’s operations in Paraguay, particularly because authorities are not clear what his exact role in the group was. However, if recent developments in Pedro Juan Caballero are any indication, new PCC crime bosses are typically ready to step in following arrests to maintain strongholds.

New PCC Crime Boss Consolidates Power on Brazil-Paraguay Border

0
The presence of a new Brazilian crime boss operating on the border with Paraguay illustrates the sophisticated expansion strategy of Brazil’s most powerful gang and the important role the border region plays in transnational organized crime. Sources in Paraguay’s security forces told news outlet ABC Color that Sérgio de Arruda Quintiliano Neto, alias “Minotauro,” an alleged member of the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC), is the new crime boss in the Paraguayan border town of Pedro Juan Caballero, where the criminal group maintains a well-established presence. Locally, Minotauro also goes by his last name, Neto, and he uses Paraguayan identification documents under the name Celso Matos Espíndola. He may have begun operating in the region to fill the vacuum left when PCC leader Elton Leonel Rumich da Silva, alias “Galã,” was arrested in Rio de Janeiro earlier this year. Galã had allegedly led the organization in the same border region since mid-2016. Minotauro rose to power in Rio de Janeiro’s Rocinha favela, and reports leaked to security forces show that the Brazilian police had already suspected him as the new PCC leader in Paraguay. The crime boss made headlines in March after he allegedly ordered the murder of a police officer in Ponta Porã, the Brazilian town lying directly across the border from Pedro Juan Caballero. The police countered with an operation in which they found Paraguayan identification documents but failed to arrest Minotauro. Brazilian authorities have also levied charges against the gang leader, including money laundering, falsifying public documents and identity theft.

InSight Crime Analysis

Brazilian gang presence along the border with Paraguay is not new. But the PCC’s interest in consolidating power in Pedro Juan Caballero shows growing sophistication in its transnational organized crime activities, a necessary strategy as it contends with other gangs moving into the region from Brazil, among them Red Command (Comando Vermelho).

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Criminal Migration

Criminals from Brazil and other countries take refuge in Pedro Juan Caballero and its surrounding border region because it serves as a strategic location for continuing criminal activities while evading justice in their home countries. Minotauro’s alleged rise in the Paraguayan city’s underworld also shows that a new generation of Brazilian criminals is cropping up in Paraguay. And they are willing and able to aggressively challenge institutions and commit violent acts against not only other criminals, but also local businesses and authorities.

Paraguay President’s ‘Soul Brother’ Could Surrender in Laundering Case

0
A friend of Paraguay’s president accused of leading a large, international money laundering scheme has reportedly offered to turn himself in to authorities. But his apparent willingness to cooperate may be a smokescreen for an effort to avoid facing justice. Dario Messer, a Brazilian businessman and financial operator who is a naturalized citizen of Paraguay, has reportedly offered to surrender to face money laundering charges in Paraguay, according to sources who spoke to Última Hora. Messer, whom Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes has described as his “soul brother,” was charged with money laundering in Paraguay on May 8 following a series of raids targeting companies he owns.

SEE ALSO: Paraguay News and Profile

The charges in Paraguay came days after authorities in neighboring Brazil on May 3 accused Messer of leading a multicountry money laundering operation that handled more than $1.6 billion since 2003. News outlets report that Brazilian authorities are investigating more than 400 of Messer’s clients, including individuals linked to corruption. Brazilian authorities have requested Messer’s extradition. On May 23, Paraguay’s Supreme Court stripped Messer of his naturalized Paraguayan citizenship, which could facilitate his extradition.

InSight Crime Analysis

On its face, Messer’s reported willingness to turn himself over to Paraguayan authorities may appear to be a good-faith gesture suggesting he will cooperate with the judicial actions against him. However, when examined more closely, the move appears to be an attempt to submit himself to Paraguayan justice in the hope that he can secure lenient treatment there, and potentially avoid being sent to Brazil, where he would likely face a much more aggressive prosecution. Messer’s close friendship with Cartes could give him some political cover as he faces the case against him in Paraguay. Cartes, who has been accused of involvement in various crimes including cigarette contraband and drug trafficking, has not been known to aggressively pursue people close to him allegedly involved in illicit activities. In fact, a number of his close allies have been accused of links to crime.

SEE ALSO: InDepth Coverage of Elites and Organized Crime

Moreover, a relative of Cartes has also been implicated in the Messer case, giving the Paraguayan president added incentive to pull whatever levers he can to ensure leniency for the accused. At the same time, Cartes has been spending significant political capital on an effort to get Congress to accept his early resignation from office so that he can take a seat in the Senate. Questions surrounding Cartes’ possible involvement in the Messer case have held up that process, suggesting the lame-duck president’s ability to help his friends may be somewhat reduced.

Corrupt Police in Paraguay See Opportunity in Illegal Logging

0
Authorities in Paraguay have arrested more than a dozen police officers for attempting to steal confiscated wood, underscoring the attractiveness of Latin America’s illegal logging industry for opportunistic corrupt law enforcement as well as criminal networks. An agent from the local prosecutor’s office ordered the arrest of 15 police officers from the city of Curuguaty, in Paraguay’s eastern department of Canindeyú along the country’s border with Brazil, for allegedly attempting to steal illegally logged wood that had been seized in an earlier police operation, ABC Color reported. The officers allegedly contracted a truck driver to steal the wood from the police station while they were on duty, ABC Color reported. However, the individuals fled and left the truck behind after being spotted while attempting to steal the wood.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Paraguay

The wood — the type of which wasn’t specified but came from the Campos Morombí nature reserve, which has faced serious problems with illegal logging in the past — had been seized by Paraguay’s environmental prosecutor in a previous operation. Among those arrested were the local unit’s police chief and the chief of criminal investigations, according to ABC Color.

InSight Crime Analysis

The recent arrests in Paraguay highlight a perennial regional problem — police corruption — as well as the relatively low risks and high rewards associated with illegal logging in Latin America. Paraguay’s Campos Morombí nature reserve is notorious for timber trafficking, and this is not the first time that police officers have been accused of trying to steal wood previously confiscated from loggers who illegally removed it from the reserve. Illegal logging is one of the highest-valued transnational crimes in the world. According to a 2017 report estimating the profitability of transnational crime, illegal logging is the most profitable natural resource crime and worth between $52 and $157 billion annually.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Eco Trafficking

Aside from the high profits, the risk is also relatively low. It isn’t clear what the police intended to do with the stolen wood, but trafficked timber — unless sold domestically — tends to be transported via land and sea to other countries via trucks and containers. Unless authorities are properly trained to identify illegally sourced wood or counterfeit documents, which they often are not, the illegal wood can either be mixed in with legally sourced wood to make it look like the entire shipment is legal, or transported under false documents. Moreover, despite the fact that authorities in Paraguay did seize this illegal timber, a lack of personnel and resources, dysfunctional operating equipment and corruption all tend to hinder efforts to crackdown on illegal logging, making it all the more attractive for those hoping to get a cut of the profits. For example, in 2016 authorities in Paraguay’s Campos Morombí nature reserve stopped performing checks at one of the roads used by traffickers transporting illegally logged wood for fear of being attacked after their unit was reduced from 15 officers to just four.

Rising Brazil Border Seizures Troubling Sign for the Region

0
Even without significant investment in border security, weapons and narcotics seizures along Brazil’s borders have increased over the last year, giving rise to the possibility that this increase is being driven by underworld dynamics. According to federal police data, there was a 33.5 percent increase in seizures of arms illegally crossing into the country in 2017, O Globo reported. The majority of the guns were destined for Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo from where many are redistributed across the country. Ninety-five percent of weapons seizures occurred in the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso do Sul and Paraná, which share a land border with Paraguay where the town of Pedro Juan Caballero has increasingly become a hub of cross-border criminal activity. The remaining five percent were transported by small planes between Bolivia and Paraguay to the interior of São Paulo and Minas Gerais.               SEE ALSO: Coverage of Paraguay Marijuana and cocaine seizures also rose by 74.1 percent and 39.4 percent respectively. Brazil’s domestic market is the second largest consumer of cocaine in the world behind the United States and the country has been increasingly used as a shipping point for narcotics to Europe.

InSight Crime Analysis

Despite the recent successful seizures, the Brazilian government has chosen to decrease expenditure on systems designed to monitor the country’s border. Sisfron — a network of sensors that the government is installing to cover Brazil’s 17,000 kilometer border by 2022 — currently covers just four percent of the frontier. As federal resources are moved away from intercepting weapons and narcotics at the border and instead are focused on endpoint destinations like Rio de Janeiro, the ability of security forces to challenge the development of trafficking routes is suffering some setbacks. To make matters worse, a 2016 change in legislation, which caps the federal budget, effectively prevents new investment in border security without having to reduce spending elsewhere.

SEE ALSO: PCC News and Profiles

Given the lack of resources, it’s not clear what’s causing the uptick in seizures. The increase in cross-border seizures comes on the heels of reports that detailed attempts by criminal groups to import weapons into Brazil from Venezuela, taking advantage of the economic and political instability in the country. Organizations like the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC) have also utilized significant resources to establish a strong presence in neighboring countries like Paraguay to facilitate trafficking. Powerful elites in the Paraguayan government may be directly or indirectly benefiting from the illicit cross-border activities of the organization, decreasing political will on one side of the frontier to combat the issue. The escalating conflicts between criminal organizations within Brazil, and a national security policy focusing more on the use of strong-arm tactics are driving criminal organizations to arm and train themselves, boosting the demand for weapons from neighboring nations. Brazil has the third longest land border in the world and shares it with countries that are abundant producers and distributors of weapons, narcotics, and contraband.

Arrests Again Point to Paraguay President’s Contraband Cigarettes

0
Cigarettes manufactured by a firm belonging to the family of Paraguay’s president have once again been seized after being smuggled across the border into Brazil, firmly pointing towards the involvement of powerful Paraguayan elites in the booming business. On January 27, authorities in Brazil seized 500 boxes of contraband cigarettes originating from the Tabacalera del Este company, which is owned by the family of Paraguay President Horacio Cartes, ABC Color reported. The latest seizure comes just a month after 28 smugglers, including three members of Brazil’s First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC) and a police officer, were arrested for attempting to smuggle contraband cigarettes also manufactured by Tabacalera del Este into Brazil. According to ABC Color, smugglers transport cheaper Paraguayan cigarettes across the border to Brazil with the intention of selling them at a marked-up price. The January seizure took place in Brazil’s southwestern Paraná state along the Brazil-Paraguay border while the December arrests occurred in the border town of Pedro Juan Caballero, a hub for criminal organizations looking to take advantage of the porous border region between the two countries.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Paraguay

In a report by the news site Nós, the number of contraband cigarettes intercepted while coming across the border has been growing steadily in recent years. As InSight Crime previously reported, just 10 percent of cigarettes manufactured in Paraguay are sold through legal channels. The low risk and high profits of the contraband cigarette trade make it increasingly attractive for Latin American criminal organizations that are trying to diversify their revenue streams.

InSight Crime Analysis

With members of Brazil’s powerful PCC found to be distributing cigarettes manufactured by Tabacalera Del Este, there are substantial implications that criminal groups may be allied with political elites in Paraguay to benefit from the lucrative industry. According to the Nós investigation, it is estimated that half of the 350 million reals (about $110 million) worth of contraband cigarettes smuggled across the border in 2016 were manufactured by Tabacalera Del Este.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Contraband

Brazil’s PCC has long had a presence in Paraguay, and most recently has been detected in the border town of Pedro Juan Caballero. Given its involvement in the December smuggling attempt and its continued presence in the border region, it is likely that the criminal group helps ensure safe passage for contraband cigarettes smuggled by Cartes’ family company and destined for Brazil. With members of Paraguay’s political elite allegedly involved in the trade and a lack of political will to combat the contraband cigarette trade from Brazilian officials, it is unlikely there will be a reduction in the number of contraband cigarettes illegally transported across the border.