The recent arrest of a purported Brazilian criminal gang boss, as well as a number of collaborators, including police, along the Brazil-Paraguay border has revealed a complicated problem: nobody knows who is working for whom.
During an operation on October 14, Paraguayan authorities captured Levi Adriani Felicio, who allegedly maintained links to top Brazilian gangs, the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC) and the Red Command (Comando Vermelho - CV), along the strategic border between the states of Mato Grosso do Sul in Brazil and Amambay in Paraguay.
Four other individuals were also detained during the operation, in the capital of the Paraguayan state, Pedro Juan Caballero. Among those arrested were Marcio Gayoso, alias “Candonga,” who is reported to be Felicio’s right-hand man, according to a report by the newspaper La Nación.
During a press conference, Paraguay's anti-drug trafficking prosecutor, Marco Alcaraz, stated that Felicio coordinated the logistics for drugs and weapons supplied to the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC). But another official mentioned that Felicio may have also had links to the Red Command (Comando Vermelho - CV).
The day following his arrest, on October 15, Felicio was deported to Brazil, where he faces trial on a number of criminal charges, news outlet Última Hora reported.
A few days later, on October 29, Paraguayan authorities arrested 21 police officers, including several police chiefs from across the state of Amambay. They are accused of collaborating with Felicio's criminal gang, providing them with intelligence, facilitating criminal activities in border cities, and even operating as hitmen for the drug gang, Última Hora reported.
InSight Crime Analysis
Conflicting accounts by Paraguayan authorities concerning associations between Levi Adriani Felicio and Brazilian criminal groups seem to reflect that he was an unusually successful freelancer, providing drugs, weapons and contraband to a range of customers, including deadly rivals like the PCC and CV.
For while the PCC has managed to position itself as the strongest criminal actor along the border region, other more fluid and independent structures still control much of this territory.
A senior-ranking officer from Paraguay's highway police told InSight Crime that the PCC is seeking to establish hegemony over the northern part of the border, which sees cocaine trafficked from Bolivia enter Brazil as well as tons of marijuana and contraband goods from Paraguay.
The CV, meanwhile, has greater control over the southern region, from where it controls the trafficking of marijuana and smuggling of contraband that supplies market demand in Rio de Janeiro, said Bruno Maciel, a spokesperson for the federal police of Ponta Porã in Brazil.
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But in addition to this already complex panorama, local groups such as Felicio's or the Clan Rotela have operated in the region for decades, moving drugs and contraband alike.
Gone are the times when renowned criminal leaders, like Jorge Rafaat – killed in 2016 by a consortium of criminal groups – or the so-called Pavão Clan, dictated all criminal activities on the disputed border.
Today, while the PCC is on the ascendancy as a transnational criminal group, it must still contend with a wide range of smaller, local groups which continue to dictate much of the criminal panorama in Paraguay.