Paraguay’s military and security forces dismantled a criminal group in the northern department of Canindeyú, a red zone for drug and arms trafficking along the border with Brazil, Paraguay’s National Anti-Drug Secretariat (SENAD) indicated in a press release. The actions were part of Operation Ignis, which ended on December 27.
The criminal organization in question is that led by Santiago Acosta Riveros, alias Macho, SENAD said. In one of the interventions, a confrontation took place which resulted in the loss of nine hitmen from the group, as well as the arrest of another 10 of the gang’s armed men.
“The only way to efficiently combat this type of criminal is in both forms: local and transnational,” Carolina Sampó, coordinator of Argentina’s Center for Studies on Transnational Organized Crime, told Diálogo on January 21. “In addition, it is necessary to develop regional integration that allows all countries to attack and pursue these criminal organizations with the same force to prevent their expansion.”
The Paraguayan criminal group had close ties with the Brazilian criminal organization First Capital Command (PCC), which supplied them with weapons of war and ammunition, reported Argentine security and defense news site Zona Militar.
During the operation, authorities arrested Brazilian citizen Ricardo Picolotto, another leader of the criminal scheme, SENAD said. “This group was very well organized, it had military-grade automatic assault rifles and handguns, and even machine guns and anti-aircraft ammunition, armored vehicles, hand grenades, tactical and bulletproof vests; everything that a regular army of any country could have,” SENAD Minister Jalil Rachid Segovia said at a press conference.
The dismantled organization was responsible for various crimes related to drug trafficking and homicides against Paraguayan and Brazilian police officers, as well as crimes behind the dispute over marijuana trafficking structures.
The criminal group was also responsible for attacks on several police stations. They relied on Mexican cartel-style maneuvers, which involved guarding shipments with convoys of vehicles and heavily armed men, SENAD said.
As part of Operation Ignis, law enforcement carried out additional operations and located in a rural area of the municipality of Corpus Christi, Canindeyú department, a 1,200 meter clandestine airstrip and a hangar under construction, as well as documentary evidence, cell phones, and computer equipment, Paraguayan newspaper Última Hora reported.
“Paraguay is a transit country. Drugs arrive from Argentina, Bolivia, or Colombia, from here they go to the world. Paraguay’s location is geographically strategic,” Minister Rachid said. “This group monopolized drug trafficking in the north of the country. Their profits were mostly used in the purchase of military weaponry.”
The PCC put down “definitive” roots in Paraguay since 2016, Sampó said, with stockpiling and redistribution of cocaine coming from Bolivia and Peru, which they then take out via different routes through Brazil, Uruguay, or Argentina.
The large quantity of weapons found, Zona Militar reported, was linked to Paraguayan-based company International Auto Supply S.A. (IAS), owned by Argentine businessman Diego Dirísio, a fugitive from justice in Paraguay who is believed to have bought some $242 million worth of guns, rifles, machine guns, and ammunitions from firearms companies in Croatia, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, and Turkey.
Between 2014 and 2023, IAS imported more than 45,000 weapons into Paraguay. Of these, at least 25,000 were sold to the PCC and Brazil’s Red Command, according to InSight Crime, an organization dedicated to studying organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean.
“As a result of the redistribution and stockpiling of drugs and the presence of the PCC with its various illegal activities, the Global Organized Crime Index, released in October 2023, places Paraguay in third place after Colombia and Mexico,” Sampó said about the increase in organized crime in Paraguayan territory.
U.S. Army General Laura J. Richardson, commander of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), visited Paraguay December 11-14. During a meeting with President Santiago Peña, Gen. Richardson reiterated the U.S. commitment to Paraguay as they discussed progress on joint projects to strengthen security and fight organized crime in the region.
Paraguayan Foreign Minister Rubén Ramírez said that the two leaders addressed specific security-related issues to “deepen work in the fight against corruption, drug and arms trafficking, among others.”
Organized crime remains the greatest threat to stability and security in Latin America. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime stated that it causes approximately half of the homicides in the region.
“The ideal is to establish and deepen efficient cooperation mechanisms between states through their security and intelligence agencies, to prevent criminal organizations dedicated to drug trafficking and arms trafficking from continuing to exploit and subjugate citizens in Latin America,” Sampó concluded.