HomeNewsAnalysisParaguay Jail Break Highlights Leaky System

Paraguay Jail Break Highlights Leaky System


The escape of six alleged Brazilian gang members from a prison in Paraguay highlights the rampant corruption within the country’s penal system.

The men, suspected of being part of Sao Paolo drug gang First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital - PCC), were sprung from jail by a group of gunmen in the early hours of May 3. The group reportedly broke into the prison, overpowered the guards, and collected the men, who were prepared and waiting for them, before driving off in several vehicles. The prison is located in the border town of Pedro Juan Caballero, a hotspot for drug and weapons smuggling into Brazil.

As Paraguayan authorities scramble to respond to the incident, the blame seems to be settling on prison officials. Four guards were arrested after the incident, along with prison director Catalino Diaz. A local anti-drug prosecutor said he had heard rumours about the plot and had warned the prison in advance, seemingly without effect.

Police also arrested several prostitutes who were reportedly having a party inside the prison with the Brazilians before they fled.

Two of the fugitives are accused of an assassination attempt against Paraguayan Senator Roberto Acevedo. The lawmaker was seriously wounded in the April 2010 attack, thought to be a hit ordered by the PCC, which killed his driver and bodyguard. Acevedo blamed Diaz for the jailbreak, saying he was involved in the drug trade and that his prison “serves as a nightclub, it’s full of prostitutes.”

Paraguay has faced a flurry of recent scandals about its penal system, with reports of massive overcrowding, inmate abuse, and the filming of child pornography by prisoners who lured young girls into the building. Administrative errors reportedly caused an 11-year delay in the release of one inmate.

The system is under strain from the booming drug trade. The landlocked country has seen a surge in trafficking over the last decade, and towns on the border with Brazil, like Pedro Juan Caballero, are the focus of operations. The town is in danger of becoming a second Ciudad Juarez, Mexico's most notorious city, according to Acevedo.

The news of the jail break is indeed reminiscent of Mexico’s repeated failures to keep high-profile traffickers locked up, most famously in the case of fugitive drug lord Joaquin Guzman Loera, alias “El Chapo,” who allegedly fled prison in a laundry basket after paying off guards. But unlike Mexico, Paraguay’s most dangerous criminal groups are not homegrown, but imported from Brazil.

The drug trade at Paraguay’s porous border is mostly controlled by Brazil’s ultra-violent gangs, such as the PCC and the Red Command (ComandoVermelho), which have long run the drug trade in Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro. Many small-time Paraguayan traffickers have been pushed out of business over the last decade by these more hardcore rivals, while local rebel group the Paraguayan People's Army (Ejercito del Pueblo Paraguayo - EPP) are too weak to control the competitive multi-million dollar business.

Being arrested has not traditionally presented much of an obstacle to these Brazilian drug gangs going about their business. The PCC was itself forged in the prisons of Sao Paolo in the 1990s, established by inmates seeking to protect themselves against abuses. Over time it grew into a mafia whose leaders could order scores of murders from their jail cells.

It appears that the Brazilian gangs are able to enjoy the same impunity in Paraguay, whose penal system is underfunded and ripe for exploitation. Following the jail break, Paraguay’s Interior and Justice Minister Humberto Blasco even proposed that the armed forces take over the running of the country’ prisons. But in a further twist his integrity was called into question by Senator Acevedo, who said Blasco was a close friend of arrested prison director Diaz.

Blasco has in turn blamed the break on a security company contracted by the government, leaving observers to wonder how far the corruption has spread and whether Paraguay will be able to fight organized crime if it can't keep detained traffickers under lock and key.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


Related Content

CIACS / 25 JUL 2016

Shortly after Otto Pérez Molina was elected president of Guatemala, Byron Lima Oliva, the once-decorated former army captain, jailed for…

EPP / 12 SEP 2013

Senior officials in Paraguay have appealed for information on a new leader and seven new members of the country's EPP…

BRAZIL / 17 FEB 2017

Brazil's Supreme Court has ruled the state must compensate prisoners held in overcrowded conditions, in a decision that could lead…

About InSight Crime


Venezuela's Cocaine Revolution Met With Uproar

6 MAY 2022

On May 4, InSight Crime launched its latest investigation, Venezuela’s Cocaine Revolution¸ accompanied by a virtual panel on its findings. The takeaways from this three-year effort, including the fact that Venezuela…


Venezuela Drug Trafficking Investigation and InDepth Gender Coverage

29 APR 2022

On May 4, InSight Crime will be publishing The Cocaine Revolution in Venezuela, a groundbreaking investigation into how the Venezuelan government regulates the cocaine trade in the country. An accompanying event,…


InDepth Coverage of Juan Orlando Hernández

22 APR 2022

Ever since Juan Orlando Hernández was elected president of Honduras in 2014, InSight Crime has provided coverage of every twist and turn during his rollercoaster time in office, amid growing…


Venezuela's Cocaine Revolution

15 APR 2022

On May 4th, InSight Crime will publish a groundbreaking investigation on drug trafficking in Venezuela. A product of three years of field research across the country, the study uncovers cocaine production in…


Widespread Coverage of InSight Crime MS13 Investigation

8 APR 2022

In a joint investigation with La Prensa Gráfica, InSight Crime recently revealed that four of the MS13’s foremost leaders had been quietly released from…