A series of raids have highlighted how widespread corruption among Paraguayan officials has allowed smugglers to operate with impunity along the Brazilian border, focusing on the Lake Itaipu and Paraná River area.
Government agencies charged with tackling smuggling have disclosed information about a series of raids that took place in the Lake Itaipu and Paraná River area last December. The raids in the area of Salto del Guairá uncovered a network of clandestine ports that were used to smuggle drugs, cigarettes and contraband to Brazil.
5 million cigarette packets were confiscated as well as 30 large boats, 10 large trucks and nine other vehicles. An investigation carried out by Ultima Hora revealed that at least 261 clandestine ports have been operating in the area for years.
During the 2017 raids, multiple government officials were implicated in the trafficking scheme. Several navy personnel were found working in the illegal ports and one such port was only 100 meters away from the Paraguayan navy base of Puerto Tigre. The head of the National Customs Directorate (Dirección Nacional de Aduanas – DNA) admitted that 27 officials from his agency were involved with the illegal operations.
During one of the raids, a notebook was also seized, which detailed payments made to corrupt officials within the National Anti-Drug Secretariat, the Attorney General’s Office, the National Police and the Paraguayan Navy, reported Ultima Hora.
InSight Crime Analysis
This level of insidious corruption has made the Itaipu Lake and Paraná River area into what is now likely to be the largest smuggling gateway into Brazil. The sheer number of illicit docks and ports found in the area, their proximity to a naval base and the direct involvement of military personnel demonstrate that smugglers and their allies operate with almost total impunity.
The ports were located in the Tri-Border Area, where Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay meet, a region notorious for smuggling. The geography of the waterways in which the ports were located also present challenges to authorities. Lake Itaipu has a shoreline of 1,350 kilometers and the narrow Paraná River stretches for up to 180 kilometers of the Paraguay-Brazil border, allowing for a multitude of unsupervised crossing points between the two countries.
The geography of the region alone makes it highly suitable for smuggling operations but local officials' susceptibility to corruption has only enhanced the region's reputation as a criminal safe haven.
Last August, authorities dismantled a marijuana trafficking network which included current and former police officers, soldiers, prosecutors and customs officials.
Efforts such as last December’s raids have failed to turn the tide against criminal actors in the area. In February, Paraguayan authorities demolished many ports used for contraband but satellite images taken the following month showed that smuggling operations had continued with little abating.
And despite denying any involvement with the smuggling operations, earlier this month, the Paraguayan navy reassigned 70 percent of their personnel in the area.