Farmers in San Pedro, Paraguay, are threatening to hold roadblocks if the government continues an unpopular marijuana eradication program. The plant is believed to provide an important source of funding for the Parguayan People's Army (Ejercito del Pueblo Paraguayo - EPP), an elusive leftist guerrilla group with little military or political clout.
ABC reports that the farmers say marijuana is their most reliable and lucrative source of income, and that the government has not provided any socio-economic alternatives.
"This isn't the way to combat marijuana cultivations," Victor Candia, identified as a spokesman for the farmers, told ABC. "The government needs to work with the people, and that way we'll leave this crop and dedicate ourselves to something else. We know that it's prohibited to cultivate marijuana, but we don't have any other valid option."
Police seized 9,000 kilos and burned 277 hectares of marijuana during an eradication crusade in San Pedro during the last week of January. San Pedro is close to the Argentinian border and is a valuable route for trafficking drugs into Argentina or to Brazil.
There is little developed industry in San Pedro, a rural and isolated department, besides farming and ranching. Similar to Canindeyú, a neighboring province which also borders Argentina, these agrarian regions are host to a few large marijuana farms. The government destroyed 384 hectares of marijuana in Canindeyu last year.
In total, Paraguay destroyed 1,013 hectares and seized 383,500 kilos of marijuana in 2010, according to ABC.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC), Paraguay is South America's largest producer of marijuana, with an estimated cultivated area of 6,000 hectares in 2008, according to the most recently available data.
The Southern Cone's Tri-Border – where Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay border – is the unofficial capital of smuggling and contraband, for products ranging from marijuana to cigarettes to alcohol. The zone is believed to harbor the EPP and Hezbollah, an Islamist militant group.
The EPP, which claimed responsibility for a bombing in Asuncion on January 12, allegedly numbers no more than 100, few of whom are armed. The group makes most of its money from drug trafficking and kidnapping, allegedly receiving some support and training from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC).
However the EPP is not thought to control the Tri-Border's marijuana trade. Paraguayan police say that Brazilian criminal syndicate the First Command of the Capital (Primer Comando de la Capital - PCC) handles the largest marijuana and cocaine shipments.
So far in 2011, Paraguay has seized 530 kilos of marijuana, ABC reports.