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Paraná, Brazil

ARMS TRAFFICKING / 4 MAR 2021 BY INSIGHT CRIME EN

Paraná is a hub for drug trafficking. Vast quantities of cocaine and marijuana enter the state from Paraguay, via the Paraná River, and from Foz do Iguaçu. All manner of contraband and illicit firearms flood into Paraná along the same smuggling routes. Sex and labor trafficking are also common in the state.

With its diverse criminal economies, it is no surprise that Paraná has become a key stronghold for the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital - PCC).

Criminal Actors

First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital - PCC): Along with São Paulo and Mato Grosso do Sul, Paraná is one of the states where the PCC has its strongest presence. The importance of this state for trafficking arms, drugs and contraband, make it a key stronghold for PCC activity. Although the PCC has a menacing presence in Paraná, it does not fully control the criminal panorama. Cigarette smuggling and other types of contraband are controlled by other groups that have not been infiltrated by the PCC.

Barakat Clan: The Barakat family network, made up of businessmen with commercial activities in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, and elsewhere, has been accused of a range of criminal activities, from money laundering to extortion to drug trafficking. The clan’s leader, Assad Ahmad Barakat, was arrested in September 2018 in Foz do Iguaçu, after serving time in Paraguay from 2002 to 2008 for financial crimes. He is wanted in both Paraguay and Argentina. The clan’s activities allegedly benefit Hezbollah.

Red Command (Comando Vermelho – CV): The CV is mainly present in the north of Paraná, on the border with Mato Grosso do Sul, where the group controls marijuana and cocaine trafficking.

Mafia Paranaense: The Mafia Paranaense, based in the Curitiba prison, is a relatively new but fast-growing criminal organization.

Local contraband and drug trafficking groups: Sitting on the border with Paraguay, Paraná is greatly exposed to the smuggling of cigarettes, electronics, pesticides, and other merchandise, passing through a host of clandestine ports controlled by organized and powerful local criminal gangs.

Criminal Economies

Arms Trafficking: Paraná is a hub for arms trafficking, due to its strategic location in the tri-border area between Argentina and Paraguay. Criminal groups smuggle weapons through Foz do Iguaçu, from where they are transported to other parts of Brazil, such as São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Some ports, such as Paranguaná, serve as entry points for weapons sent from Europe and the United States. The state’s arms trafficking economy could be worth tens of millions of dollars per year in annual sales and trafficking activities.

Cocaine: Paraná is one of the most important states for cocaine trafficking in Brazil. Its border with Paraguay makes it especially vulnerable to cocaine flows from Bolivia. It also borders the state of São Paulo – one of the biggest consumption markets in Brazil and a gateway to Europe. In addition, the state’s Atlantic ports make for convenient exit points for Europe-bound narcotics. Tons of cocaine transit the state annually, and the value of the criminal economy could be in the hundreds of millions.

Cannabis: Paraná and the city of Foz de Iguaçú are among the most important entry points for marijuana smuggled into Brazil from Paraguay. In 2019, authorities seized 137 tons of cannabis in Paraná, second only to Mato Grosso do Sul. This criminal economy could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Environmental Crime: Eco-trafficking is an important criminal activity in Paraná. Endangered species and exotic animals are trafficked into the state from other countries, such as the United States. In 2019, authorities seized approximately 500 fauna specimens. Timber trafficking is also a problem. Prices of trafficked wildlife vary significantly, complicating the task of quantifying this criminal economy.

Human Trafficking: Criminal groups in Paraná recruit and exploit human trafficking victims, who are mostly forced into slave labor or sex work. Authorities do not recognize human trafficking as one of the main criminal economies in the state, but federal investigations have shed light on the shuttling of sex trafficking victims between Paraguay and Paraná. Paraguayan women frequently serve as drug “mules” between Foz do Iguaçu and Ciudad del Este. Once in Brazil, they transport the drugs to international destinations. In 2019, authorities registered 41 complaints of human trafficking in the state. Muslim migrants from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nigeria enter Brazil via the border in Foz do Iguaçu and Guaíra, and they are subjected to forced labor in refrigerated warehouses that process Halal meat, in western Paraná. Some of the state’s inhabitants (mainly from Japanese origin) from the regions of Maringá, Curitiba and Londrina are subjected to forced labor in Japan. The human trafficking economy could worth in the hundreds of thousands of dollars per year or perhaps even in the low millions if counting unpaid labor.

Contraband: Contraband is the main criminal economy in Paraná. The state is a gateway for various products – cigarettes, electronics, pesticides, car parts, and more – smuggled from Paraguay into Brazil.

Sources: This profile is based on a field investigation in Foz de Iguaçu, Paraná, and two trips to São Paulo where InSight Crime interviewed representatives of the Attorney General’s Office, a national police investigation unit, a national anti-organized crime division, the Brazilian special police, a border security unit, federal police, Brazil's Public Security Forum, and local journalists, most of whom requested anonymity. InSight Crime also drew from information provided by Brazil's Public Security Forum, O Globo, and local press.

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