In the latest edition of the Global Organized Crime Index 2023, by Swiss-based nongovernmental organization Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, Paraguay climbed to fourth place among 193 United Nations member countries that took part in this biannual study on the main centers of criminal activity and organized crime.
The data collected reveal an increase in crime rate in Paraguay, reaching 7.52 points compared to the 6.70 recorded in 2021.
The report highlights that Paraguay has gone from being a transit country to an emerging source of cocaine. There was an increase in seizures of cocaine paste, an indication of increased processing. Although there are no official records, it is estimated that there is a flow of almost 200 tons of cocaine per year, mainly from Bolivia and Peru.
Drug trafficking evades land controls by using air and sea routes. Various criminals, including politicians and agricultural workers, participate in cocaine trafficking. Elites can be bribed to protect drug traffickers, generating a significant increase in violence and homicides in the country, the report indicates.
In addition to leading illegal cannabis production in South America, Paraguay is a key trafficking point to Brazil, it added. The influence of foreign criminal groups in the marijuana trade is expanding. Paraguay also functions as a distribution center for synthetic drugs destined for Argentina and Brazil.
It is also a regional epicenter for arms trafficking and hosts Brazilian criminal gang operations, the Crime Index shows. Paraguay serves as a major destination for counterfeit products in South America as well, and is a major source of illegal tobacco trade, particularly in the Tri-Border area with Brazil and Argentina.
“The convergence of criminal actors such as the PCC [Brazil’s First Capital Command], the ‘Ndrangheta [Calabrian mafia], as well as Colombian and Mexican criminal groups, put Paraguay on the map as a prominent distribution center,” Juan Martens, a researcher at the National University of Pilar and INECIP-Paraguay, told Diálogo on November 27.
In early November, Paraguayan Interior Minister Enrique Riera said on TV program Fuego Cruzado that “organized crime has advanced technology, unlimited financial resources, and significant operational capabilities, as well as open complicity in its criminal actions.”
The flow of cocaine, he said, comes from northern countries and enters the country through some 1,500 clandestine airstrips, mainly located in Chaco, Canindeyú, Itapúa, and Misiones.
“In the last two years we seized around 60 tons of cocaine hidden in various objects, which reflects a worrisome situation with the involvement of numerous people,” Rivera adds. “A significant portion of these shipments was destined for Europe, while another portion was headed for Brazil.”
Coca fluvial corridor
Between 2020 and 2022, the United States, Colombia, and Brazil have identified the Paraguayan Chaco as a crucial point in Latin American drug trafficking. Criminal organizations store cocaine in Paraguay and then transport it by road to Paraguayan ports, according to a report by the Latin American Center for Investigative Journalism (CLIP).
This fluvial corridor is known as the Paraná-Paraguay hydrovía, which crosses Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay, through which some 27 million tons of cargo are moved each year. Thousands of kilograms of drugs hidden among licit goods leave Paraguayan ports and reach Europe, the report indicated.
“Although Paraguay does not produce cocaine, its strategic location between important rivers and transatlantic ports puts it only at a two-hour flight from producer countries,” Martens said. “The PCC emerged as a key player in the trafficking of this drug, using the Paraguay-Parana fluvial corridor as its main route.”
According to CLIP, Colombian and Mexican criminal groups, Peru’s Shining Path, and even the Russian drug mafia, use this route. The groups in command in the Paraguayan Chaco are the Brazilian PCC and Red Command.
A big task
To meet this challenge, Minister Riera said that the government is looking into purchasing a shared radar system to improve airspace surveillance and protection. Authorities carry out ongoing extensive intelligence work, which recently resulted in the seizure of 3.3 tons of cocaine.
This drug was seized on October 24 at the port of Villeta, south of Asunción, hidden in a container of rice bound for Belgium. The seizure, Mexican newspaper Excelsior reported, was the second most significant in the history of the fight against drug trafficking in the country.
In their never-ending battle, authorities have strengthened controls at ports and reestablished canine services, Riera said.
With the technical support of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) authorities can now assess violence and insecurity levels and the functioning of the institutions in charge of dealing with these problems, the Paraguayan Supreme Court of Justice said through its website.
“Organized crime is a challenge that crosses borders. It requires effective cooperation between countries from its beginnings in Bolivia, through Paraguay and Argentina, to possible destinations such as Europe or the United States,” Martens said. “Its transnational nature demands a collaborative response at the global level.”