A spate of murders in the Paraguay-Brazil border region has been attributed to a turf war between Brazilian-led criminal groups, in another sign of the infiltration of foreign organized crime into the country.
At least eight killings committed in or around the border city of Pedro Juan Caballero, capital of the state of Amambay, since early January have been linked to a battle for control of this key drug trafficking corridor, reported ABC.
According to ABC, a group led by alias "Rafad," a Brazilian of Arab origin, has clashed with another led by Ivan Mendes Mesquita, a Brazilian national previously extradited from Paraguay to the United States, where he was recently released after serving jail time for drug trafficking.
Among the murders linked to the rivalry are those of two former Brazilian police officers and that of a Chilean dentist. In one case, the body of a Brazilian man registered as living in the municipality of Ponta Pora -- which sits across the border from Pedro Juan Caballero -- was dumped on Paraguayan territory, and the site of his murder remains unknown. In another case, a Brazilian business owner operating on Paraguayan territory was gunned down by assassins on a motorbike, who subsequently escaped in the direction of Brazil.
InSight Crime Analysis
This string of homicides in Pedro Juan Caballero is just the latest sign of the growing influence of Brazilian criminal groups in Paraguay, which is a significant transit route for cocaine heading to the Brazilian market or on to Europe, as well as South America's primary marijuana producer.
Earlier this month, Paraguay's anti-drug chief, Luis Rojas, identified this city as one of the places where a Brazilian presence had been particularly noted. According to Rojas, groups such as the First Capital Command (PCC), Red Command (CV) and Amigos dos Amigos are vying for control in the border region.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of the PCC
In January, a prominent clergyman denounced the "Brazilianization" of the state of Concepcion, which borders Amambay, with Brazilian criminals apparently buying swathes of land in order to use ranches as a cover for drug trafficking. Two months earlier, four members of a reported "armed wing" of the PCC were captured in Pedro Juan Caballero.
While it remains unclear which of the larger organizations the rival Brazilian groups may be affiliated with, Ivan Mendes has previously been linked to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla organization, and according to ABC, has ties to Europe and the United States.