A prominent clergyman in Paraguay has called attention to the establishment of permanent bases in the country by Brazilian criminals, with recently announced record drug seizures one indication of what might be attracting them.
Archbishop Pablo Caceres of the Diocese of Concepcion condemned the "Brazilianization" of the northern department where he is based, saying criminal groups had been slowly gaining ground there since 2005, reported Nanduti. "San Salvador port, like other places, is today in the hands of the Brazilians," he said.
According to Caceres, Brazilian criminals have been increasingly buying land in Concepcion, using ranching as a cover for drug trafficking activities. These large landholdings house clandestine landing strips for drug flights, and outsiders are refused entry, he said.
The report came just as Paraguay announced record drug seizures in 2013, with 492 tons recovered, a 39 percent increase on 2012 figures. More than 461 tons of the drugs recovered were marijuana. Paraguay is the leading producer of marijuana in South America, and Brazil is its principal market.
InSight Crime Analysis
The presence of Brazilian criminal groups involved in drug trafficking in Paraguay has been the subject of various reports in recent years. The Brazilian group with the heaviest presence in the country is the Rio de Janeiro-based Red Command (Comando Vermelho), with an armed wing of the group captured in the border area between the two countries in May 2013. A month earlier it was reported the group was shipping one ton of cocaine out of Paraguay each month.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Red Command
While cells of Brazilian groups have been reported to operate in Paraguay, the suggestion Brazilian criminals are buying up swathes of land and operating with impunity in the country gives new cause for concern. As a key transit point for Peruvian and Bolivian cocaine and a prominent marijuana producer, Paraguay offers massive profits to criminal groups.
The Red Command and rival Brazilian prison gang the First Capital Command (PCC) are already known to have set up shop in Bolivia, and the establishment of a more permanent presence in Paraguay may be a natural result of their development into transnational drug trafficking operations. This increasing expansion is also likely linked to police crackdowns in their home country.
As highlighted by Caceres, this development also calls into question the government's focus on combating the Paraguayan People's Army (EPP). The small guerrilla outfit has been accused of drug trafficking ties, but is likely just a minor player in the hundreds of tons of drugs passing through Paraguay.