Relentless: Paraguay Confronts Organized Crime

Relentless: Paraguay Confronts Organized Crime

By Geraldine Cook/Diálogo
July 16, 2018

The Paraguayan Armed Forces overhaul their combat strategies in the fight against transnational criminal organizations.

Security threats spreading through the country keep Admiral Hugo Milciades Scolari Pagliaro, commander of the Paraguayan Military Forces, on permanent alert. Crimes from the self-proclaimed Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP, in Spanish), located to the north, and illicit activities in the Tri-border area to the south, compel the Military Forces to be relentless. New combat tactics and greater support to the population, together with border patrols and international cooperation agreements, are part of Adm. Scolari’s strategies to combat criminal organizations.

Adm. Scolari met with Diálogo during a visit to Asunción to discuss these issues. The officer also spoke about the importance of international collaboration and interagency work to fight threats that undermine security.

Diálogo: What is the main challenge to Paraguayan security?

Admiral Hugo Milciades Scolari Pagliaro, commander of the Paraguayan Military Forces: We face several challenges in this global world. The Armed Forces should always be one of the pillars of democracy and citizens’ freedom. In addition to traditional threats, the main challenges are emerging threats, such as illicit activities of armed groups linked to the drug mafia, money laundering, and human trafficking, which threatens the security, investments, and activities that drive production and employment in Paraguay.

Diálogo: When you took over in August 2017 you said your main concern was fighting the self-proclaimed EPP. What new combat strategies against EPP were cemented?

Adm. Scolari: We made progress in the fight against EPP. We are updating our strategic actions and improving our combat tactics and relations with the community. We carried out civil actions with the population in the north, where EPP operates, such as refurbishing roads, schools, and providing medical attention. The population has basic needs, so our presence helps us be seen as a friendly force. The situation in this area is fairly complex, because in addition to confronting EEP, we conduct anti-drug operations and actions against cattle theft. Our operations are conducted with utmost respect for human rights and with the participation of the Office of the Attorney General, so as not to have a negative influence on the population. Our actions also aim to strengthen the morale of military personnel.

Among strategies, Law 1337 on Domestic Defense and Security and Law 5036 were modified, allowing for the use of the Armed Forces for internal defense, without having to declare a state of emergency, and bestowing the Joint Task Force (JTF) its own budget. In addition, a domestic defense zone (ZDI, in Spanish) was defined to assign special units, such as the Special Forces Joint Battalion, the Army Special Troops Command, the Navy Command, and the Amphibious Commando Battalion, among others. We also adopted an intelligence system based on the experiences of Colombia and Peru, which improved joint efforts with other public security institutions.

Diálogo: As part of your commitment to strengthen the fight against narcotrafficking, you reaffirmed the importance of boosting JTF. What are JTF’s results in the fight against this scourge?

Adm. Scolari: The institution directly responsible for the fight against narcotrafficking is the National Anti-Drug Secretariat (SENAD, in Spanish). The Armed Forces strongly support SENAD with military personnel, means, and intelligence. About 70 percent of SENAD’s personnel is military. We support their actions tactically and in the field. Although JTF strengthened in accordance with its specific mission to pacify the ZDI, this bolstered its capabilities and increased comprehensive actions where narcotrafficking operates (plantations, laboratories, transits, people involved, etc.) However, one of the challenges consists of the transformation the Armed Forces need to gain direct action by law in the fight against narcotrafficking, since we don’t currently have this legal instrument. As such, we are working to submit military law projects to the new government, such as the inclusion of the Armed Forces in the fight against narcotrafficking, without overshadowing SENAD or the National Police, and continue with joint work. A law empowering us to combat narcotrafficking head-on will strengthen SENAD. The anti-drug fight will be more effective with work coordinated by law.

Diálogo: You signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Foreign Relations’ National Boundary Lines Commission (CNDL, in Spanish) to conduct joint actions to defend national sovereignty. What kind of coordinated and joint work do you conduct with the commission to protect borders?

Adm. Scolari: The Military Forces collaborate with border protection to inspect boundary lines. We work with CNDL through a memorandum of understanding. CNDL has members in neighboring countries and conducts an annual geographical border tour to determine whether borders have changed. For example, they check that demarcations of the Paraná river haven’t changed—by way of erosion or flooding—which might affect its course. These inspections are very important to maintain precise borders, and an audit is essential to determine whether demarcations are respected.

Diálogo: In March, Colombia and Paraguay reaffirmed their cooperation in defense matters for national security. What kind of combined operations do you conduct in the fight against crime?

Adm. Scolari: Colombia supports us and especially the National Police for many years with counterterrorist training. Colombia increased its aid to our Armed Forces with intelligence experts and operations focused on the fight against EPP. The information and intelligence exchange are beneficial to our operations, as the Colombian experience is invaluable. We have Colombian police and service members working along with our police officers and military. As for cooperation, we carry out combined exercises, academic exchange, shared experiences of military operations, and common research programs, among others. Colombia’s contribution has been very valuable.

Diálogo: What joint and combined cooperation efforts do the Tri-border countries (Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay) carry out to neutralize narcotrafficking and reduce organized and common criminal activities?

Adm. Scolari: Our concern is transnational crime which might occur in the area, such as drug and weapons trafficking, kidnapping, and terrorism. These threats are a growing problem: at times you win, tie, or lose. And although that’s our reality, we are ready to combat them continuously and fulfill our mission. Therefore, joint and combined efforts are conducted in the Tri-border area. SENAD, the National Police, and their partners from Brazil and Argentina conduct most of the actions to neutralize narcotrafficking and reduce operations of organized and common crime. The Military Forces deployed in the Tri-border area count with established provisions with border partners to support the requirements of responsible elements. As such, controls and permanent patrols are conducted in critical areas and compulsory routes, while intelligence operations—shared with national security agencies and institutions of neighboring countries to establish prevention mechanisms or the corresponding response—are carried out. The Paraguayan Navy is acquiring speedboats and the Air Force is conducting several exercises with radar and aircraft along with their Brazilian and Argentinian counterparts. It’s important to point out that we are working on a legal framework against illegal aircraft flying within our territory that will be submitted to the government.

Diálogo: What kind of combined and joint exchanges do you conduct as part of military cooperation with the United States?

Adm. Scolari: The exchanges are very broad. We conduct periodic exchanges with members of the U.S. Special Operations Command South through land, air, and riverine training exercises. We receive intelligence, combat medic, sniper, and general combat courses. We also participate in multinational exercises such as PANAMAX, UNITAS, and Fuerzas Comando, which our country hosted in 2002 and 2017.

Diálogo: What does Paraguay bring to the regional fight against transnational organized crime?

Adm. Scolari: We have defense agreements with Brazil and Argentina and very good relations with the region in general. We have an open channel for cooperation and defense with the police and armed forces of neighboring countries concerning firearms. We have agreements for information exchange—the most effective way to combat transnational crime—with regional countries. As we get closer regionally, the fight against crime will be more effective and will help our countries grow and be safe. I believe that regional cooperation in security matters is necessary, since it’s key to defeating transregional and transnational organizations.