Paraguay's anti-drug chief has expressed concern over traffickers' ties to officials -- a phenomenon that may be inevitable given the importance of the marijuana trade to the country's economy -- and suggested regulated marijuana production as an alternative approach to tackling organized crime.
In an October 21 press conference, Luis Rojas, the head of Paraguayan anti-drug body SENAD, said drug traffickers used their economic influence to buy protection from politicians, as well as from the military, the judicial system, and the press, reported Ultima Hora.
Rojas declined to provide further details, but his comments came shortly after Senator Robert Acevedo told radio station 780 AM that SENAD had a list of at least five senators and various government representatives who were linked to drug trafficking.
Rojas said one alternative way to combat drug trafficking could be to regulate the production of marijuana, reported ABC Color. He also said that security forces should focus efforts on seizing properties belonging to major drug traffickers, in addition to marijuana eradication and seizures.
According to Rojas, in 2014 anti-drug officials have destroyed 6,000 tons of marijuana in three eastern provinces bordering Brazil: Amambay, Canindeyu, and Alto Parana, reported ABC Color.
InSight Crime Analysis
The size and economic importance of Paraguay's marijuana trade -- which based on UN marijuana production estimates could represent over 3 percent of the country's GDP -- makes narco-corruption in politics difficult to avoid, particularly in the main marijuana-growing provinces. In an interview with InSight Crime in September, Rojas said the local economy in Amambay depended so heavily on drug trafficking that large-scale eradication operations in the province produced a corresponding spike in robberies.
Ties between drug traffickers and politicians are common in Latin American countries where the drug trade holds a lot of economic sway, such as Guatemala, Honduras and Peru.
With Paraguay the largest marijuana producer in South America, any mention of legalization as a mechanism to combat the drug trade -- particularly by the country's top anti-drug official -- will draw attention. Rojas' remarks stand in contrast to his former criticism of Uruguay's legalization law, which he said would lead to a production spike in Paraguay.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Paraguay
Drug trafficking is not the only crime in Paraguay that depends on ties to officials. In September, a Paraguayan government official described the flow of contraband near the Triple Frontier with Brazil and Argentina as an "uncontainable avalanche." This trade is facilitated by official corruption -- most notably in Ciudad del Este, which is such a haven for criminal activity that it has been referred to as Paraguay's "Wild West."