ASUNCIÓN, Paraguay – The Comando Vermelho (Red Command) and Primer Comando Capital (First Capital Command or PCC), two of the biggest crime organizations operating in Brazil, have become the primary targets of Paraguay’s counter-narcotics forces.
“The men in these two organizations come to Paraguay to put together the shipments of marijuana, the [drug] sales and other illegal activities,” said Miguel Chaparro, who heads Paraguay’s Anti-drug Secretariat (SENAD).
Chaparro said Paraguay is targeting these crime syndicates because “80% of the marijuana being grown in Paraguay ends up in Brazil, according to statistics.”
Chaparro said members of the Comando Vermelho, which is based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and the PCC, which has its roots in São Paulo, Brazil, have established a presence in the Paraguayan cities of Pedro Juan Caballero (Amambay Department), Saltos del Guairá (Canindeyú Department) and Ciudad del Este (Alto Parná Department).
What do the Paraguayan cities have in common? They are all on the border with Brazil.
“The men come here to assemble several tons of marijuana, which they then send to Brazil,” Chaparro said. “These guys have been doing away with all the small drug producers and dealers in Paraguay, using mafia methods.”
SENAD scored a victory on April 7, when agents arrested five Brazilian citizens with alleged ties to the Comando Vermelho during a raid in the municipality of Puente Kyhá in the department of Canindeyú.
Two shotguns, a rifle, a machine gun, four bulletproof vests and several 3.3-pound bricks of marijuana ( 3.3 lbs. each) were confiscated from the Brazilians, who were placed in the custody of the Paraguayan district attorney for their alleged involvement in drug trafficking.
“By capturing these members of Comando Vermelho, we’ve shown there is a feud with other criminal groups, all trying to control [drug traffic in] that area,” Chaparro said.
Chaparro said the departments of Amambay and Canindeyú have the biggest concentrations of marijuana farms.
But that may change.
SENAD and Brazil’s Federal Police have partnered for operation “New Alliance,” in which agents work together to eradicate illegal crops. On March 23, forces destroyed 250 acres of marijuana planted on an area known as “Sarambí Hill.”
“This is equivalent to removing about 312 tons of marijuana from the drug market,” according to a SENAD report.
Security forces destroyed 25 camps containing more than 130,000 pounds of marijuana combined.
“This means a loss of more than US$4 million” for the narco-traffickers, according to SENAD’s report, which stated Paraguayan marijuana sells for US$1,000 a kilogram (2.2 pounds) in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Chile.
“The SENAD wants to chip away at the drug-traffickers’ finances, destroying marijuana plantations right at harvest time, when they’ve already invested a lot [of money] in the crop, and have already paid the growers and bought equipment for the job,” SENAD said in a statement.
In 2010, the SENAD eradicated a total of 2,500 acres of marijuana plantations, containing about 6.6 million pounds of the narcotic.
This year, the Ministry of the Interior, through the Counter-narcotics Division of the National Police, implemented operation “Ko’e Pyahu” (New Dawn, in Guaraní). The goal is to destroy narcotics being grown and produced in departments along the Paraguay-Brazil border.
So far, the initiative has led to the eradication of 800 tons of marijuana, Interior Minister Rafael Filizzola said.
“The estimated value at the production site is about US$10million, and for the regional markets it is US$200 million, which means we greatly hurt organized crime,” Filizzola said during a media conference in February. “With regard to this operation (Ko’e Pyahu), we should establish that there was a prior gathering of intelligence, not only in the departments that were affected but in all departments around the country. For this action we’ve taken as a point of reference those departments that are known for having the largest production of marijuana.”
Meantime, Rubén Rosas Florentín, chief commissioner of the San Pedro Police Department, said those growing marijuana often are field laborers who are being exploited by narco-traffickers.
“Those growing the marijuana gain the least (economic) benefit because they’re peasants who are being used by middlemen and financial backers,” Rosas told Radio Cardinal. “With these operations [now being conducted], we’re trying to discourage the illegal production of these crops and we’re hoping to convince producers that the best thing to do is to start planting legal crops [instead].”