Is Brazil's largest gang, the PCC, expanding into the marijuana cultivation business in Paraguay? Despite this suggestion being made by government reports, the true nature of the group's involvement remains uncertain.
Speculation about the role of the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital - PCC) began in late August after Paraguayan authorities found six marijuana fields in Colonia Estrella, a municipality in the eastern department of Amambay, which borders Brazil. During their search, agents from Paraguay’s National Anti-Drug Secretariat (Secretaría Nacional Antidrogas - SENAD) discovered a notice warning that the fields were owned by the PCC and that trespassers would be killed, SENAD reported.
This was not the first such discovery. In July, SENAD officials in Colonia Estrella uncovered plastic sacks filled with marijuana, with the initials "PCC" scribbled across them.
Posting on social media, SENAD stated that these seizures were proof that the PCC was controlling marijuana cultivation in Colonia Estrella. The decommissioned fields "formed a center for the production and storage of marijuana on a large scale" and show how the PCC "seeks to monopolize the drug business from the source,” according to the anti-drug body.
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If confirmed, this shift would mark a major change in Paraguay's marijuana-growing process, as the PCC has traditionally been a wholesale buyer of marijuana, not a producer.
Certainly, the department of Amambay is one of Latin America's main marijuana production areas. It is also the PCC's main stronghold in Paraguay, with the gang being well-established as the largest buyer of marijuana from local producers.
However, taking over production would mark a big change in the way the marijuana trade works in Paraguay. Farmers rarely grow their crop exclusively for one group or trafficker but usually have several clients, according to Carlos Peris, a political scientist and drug trafficking expert at the Catholic University of Asunción.
“Can we say that the drugs grown [and seized by SENAD] were for the PCC? Of course. Can we say that this plantation was exclusive to the PCC? Absolutely not," Peris told InSight Crime.
According to Peris, Amambay’s marijuana trade has a long-standing supply chain model. First, local farmers grow and harvest small quantities of marijuana, usually a few tons, before selling them to intermediaries.
These intermediaries then transport the marijuana to the border and sell it to Brazilian criminal groups, like the PCC, at an higher rate. Were the PCC experimenting with their own marijuana production, the gang would be trying to eliminate the first two links in this supply chain, potentially increasing their profit margin.
The PCC has long been active in drug trafficking in Paraguay. It has successfully increased its membership figures by recruiting in prisons and earned money through arms trafficking and kidnapping, as InSight Crime previously revealed. But the recent seizures mark the first time Paraguayan authorities have confirmed the group's participation in marijuana cultivation.
Despite SENAD's claims, real doubts remain over the PCC's move into marijuana cultivation. Peris explained that using the PCC name on warning signs or on marijuana sacks could merely be a farmers using the gang's name to ward off trespassers and thieves.
Even if the PCC is not directly owning marijuana fields, any association with the group can help farmers protect their land, according to Peris.