Authorities in Argentina have captured two Paraguayan brothers who built a cultivation-to-consumer marijuana empire from scratch, highlighting the spaces that exist for independent traffickers to operate in some parts of Latin America.
Lorenzo and Arnaldo Cubilla were arrested in June after authorities seized 3.5 tons of marijuana in a truck disguised with fake Ministry of Social Development insignia.
According to the authorities, the brothers started out as minor drug dealers in a Buenos Aires slum but built up a major operation that grew marijuana in Paraguay and used a fleet of trucks and an airplane to transport it to various locations around Argentina and even as far as Chile, reported Clarin.
Lorenzo allegedly grew marijuana on land the brothers had purchased in San Pedro del Parana, 360 kilometers from Asuncion, while Arnaldo distributed the product in Argentina, reported Ultima Hora.
Their arrests came after a six-month investigation during which authorities tapped 30 phones and hired translators to decipher conversations in Guarani -- an indigenous language spoken in Paraguay.
The brothers are now being prosecuted in Argentina along with five associates.
InSight Crime Analysis
The fact that the Cubilla brothers were able to build an independent drug trafficking organization and control every stage in the production and distribution chain is indicative of the criminal opportunities on offer for enterprising independent operators in parts of Latin America, such as Argentina and Paraguay where sophisticated large-scale organizations have yet to take root and establish monopolies.
Were such an operation to begin in countries with a different criminal dynamic, such as Colombia or Brazil, it would likely soon attract the attentions of larger and considerably more powerful organizations, like the Urabeños or the First Capital Command (PCC). However, even in these countries there are signs of a form of "democratization" of the drug trade. In Colombia for example, where once the most powerful groups controlled the drug trade from top to bottom, now they often offer services to traffickers, creating space for independent operators who are willing to collaborate.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Paraguay
The Cubilla case also demonstrates the vulnerability of independent operators, who are less likely to have the broad networks of corrupt official contacts and coercive power more established organizations rely on to evade capture.
The opportunities for such operators in Paraguay may be reducing. There are numerous indications that Brazilian criminal organizations -- like the prison gang PCC -- have a growing presence in Paraguay and as they become more established they are likely to want to at least take their cut of other trafficking operations, if not take them over.