Following recent discoveries of large scale cocaine processing laboratories in Paraguay, authorities have expressed concern that the role of the country in the regional drug trade is evolving from that of a transit nation to that of a producer country.
During a June 14 interview with radio station 780 AM, Paraguay's antinarcotics chief Crispulo Sotelo voiced concern that the nation was becoming more involved in cocaine production, as indicated by a number of recent laboratory busts.
In a raid in the southeastern city of Encarnacion on June 13, authorities arrested five suspects and seized drugs and precursor chemicals from a laboratory that allegedly belonged to an organization with links to Brazilian criminal group the First Capital Command (PCC), reported Ultima Hora. The unfinished product was brought from Pedro Juan Caballero, near the Brazilian border, to be processed in Encarnacion, and the cocaine was then shipped by river to Argentina, according to ABC.
Authorities also found 15 bags of coca leaves at the site thought to have been brought from Bolivia, in what was reportedly the first seizure of the raw material used to produce cocaine in a Paraguayan laboratory raid.
Sotelo also highlighted a drug lab discovered earlier this year that allegedly produced cocaine destined for Paraguay's domestic market in the Asuncion area, reported Prensa Latina.
InSight Crime Analysis
In addition to being South America's largest marijuana producer, Paraguay has become a key transit nation for Bolivian cocaine en route to Brazilian and European markets.
Recent discoveries of cocaine processing laboratories in the country show that Paraguay is now being used for drug production as well, and Sotelo's concern that this is a rising trend appears to be well-founded. At least three major cocaine processing facilities, in addition to the ones he mentioned, have been discovered over the last year and a half, along with large amounts of precursor chemicals.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Paraguay
Meanwhile, the discovery of coca leaves in the most recent laboratory raid indicates the organizations involved are now going straight to the source, rather than trafficking in coca base to process. According to ABC, importing this primary material is legal and thus reduces the risks involved.
Increasing production also could mean that criminal groups operating in Paraguay are attempting to control more links in the drug chain and keep a larger percentage of the profits. Powerful Brazilian drug trafficking organizations that operate in Paraguay and traffic drugs from Bolivia -- including the PCC and the Red Command -- could be partly behind this shift. There are also signs Paraguayan-run organizations are getting more deeply involved in the drug trade.