Contract killings accounted for more than a third of all homicides registered in Paraguay in 2021. Such were the results of a research by Jorge Rolón Luna, an attorney and the former director of the Observatory of Security and Citizen Coexistence of the Paraguayan Ministry of the Interior.
“In 2020, of 481 homicides officially recognized by the Paraguayan state, 29 percent were cases of contract killings,” Rolón Luna told the Paraguayan investigative site Terere Cómplice. “Of the 525 homicides the Paraguayan state recognized as its absolute figure in 2021, contract killings cases accounted for 33 percent,” he added.
In January 2022, there were at least 27 deaths due to contract killings, the highest number for a single month, according to Terere Cómplice. “It’s not that [contract killings] are growing at 2 or 3 [percent]. There is a spectacular growth of the phenomenon in Paraguay,” Rolón Luna told Paraguayan newspaper Última Hora.
For Rolón Luna, the increase in narcotrafficking has a direct impact on the increase in cases of hired killings in the country and in the region. “The numbers with which I have been working on hired killing cases reveal an exponential phenomenon. I particularly believe that the irruption, consolidation, and growth of cocaine as an important business in Paraguay has brought with it the consolidation and growth of hired killings in the country,” he added, Paraguayan newspaper La Nación reported.
One of the most high-profile contract killing cases so far in 2022 was that of Paraguayan Prosecutor Marcelo Pecci of the Paraguayan Office of the Attorney General’s Organized Crime Specialized Unit, who was murdered May 10 on the Colombian island of Barú, during his honeymoon. Although Pecci’s murder did not take place in Paraguay, the prosecutor was known for conducting high-level investigations related to narcotrafficking and arms crimes, money laundering, and terrorism. He was one of the prosecutors involved in Operation A Ultranza PY, which dealt the biggest blow to cocaine trafficking and money laundering in the history of Paraguay.
“The cowardly murder of Prosecutor Marcelo Pecci in Colombia has all of Paraguay in mourning. We condemn in the strongest terms this tragic act and redouble our commitment to the fight against organized crime,” Paraguayan President Mario Abdo Benítez said via Twitter.
In early May, Paraguay and Colombia pledged to strengthen the fight against organized crime to include narcotrafficking, kidnapping, human trafficking, cybercrime, and money laundering schemes, among others, as part of the signing of an agreement between the attorney generals of both countries, reported the Agencia de Información Paraguaya.
The U.S. government, which is supporting the investigation together with Colombian and Paraguayan authorities, condemned the murder of the prosecutor. Likewise, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian A. Nichols expressed via Twitter the “commitment and determination [of the U.S.] to work with the Paraguayan authorities and all the countries of the continent in the fight against organized crime.”
For his part, U.S. Ambassador to Paraguay Marc Ostfield also expressed Washington’s support. “More than ever, we will strengthen our work together to confront organized crime in Paraguay and in the hemisphere,” he said.
On May 10, U.S. Army General Richard Clarke, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, accompanied by U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Keith Davids, commander of Special Operations Command South, met in Asunción with President Benítez, as well as Paraguayan military leaders, to strengthen ties of friendship and commitment to security cooperation.
“Partnerships are vital to addressing security interests regionally and globally,” Gen. Clarke said. “Paraguay is a great friend and we share many of the same security concerns, such as counterterrorism and the fight against transnational criminal organizations. Working together with our Paraguayan partners strengthens and expands the already strong relationship to the benefit of both our countries.”