A Paraguayan politician was arrested during Bolivia's biggest marijuana seizure this year, highlighting how deeply involved Paraguay's officials have become in the highly profitable transnational drug trade.
On August 22, Bolivian authorities seized more than 5 tons of marijuana in the possession of three Paraguayans who were subsequently arrested: political figure Fredy Alberto Godoy Segovia and his partners Sixto Gilberto Biordo and Edgar Salomón Sanabria Núñez.*
Bolivian officials say the marijuana confiscated in this case was likely destined for neighboring Chile, Argentina or Brazil.
Godoy Segovia is a regional leader for Paraguay's Colorado party, to which President Horacio Cartes also belongs. In his role as a "section" leader for the city of Liberación in the rural central department of San Pedro, Godoy Segovia had already drawn suspicion prior to his arrest among some locals who thought he might be tied to the illegal trade.
"There were rumors that he was working in this ... but without verification we could not say or confirm anything," Ariel Villalba, the mayor of Liberación told news outlet Diario HOY.
Villalba explained that while there have not been any reports of marijuana plantations in Liberación, there have been discoveries of fields in nearby communities.
Bolivian Prosecutor Grobert Vega Lobo told ABC Paraguay that the three Paraguayan men currently under arrest are likely part of a bigger trafficking network.
"We are still in the process of investigating, but we believe there may be broader participation by people in both Paraguay and Bolivia," Vega Lobo said. "Whenever there is a large quantity it represents a cargo of great value, which is why we believe that these individuals are operating as part of an international organization."
InSight Crime Analysis
The recent arrest of a Paraguayan politician allegedly trafficking tons of marijuana through Bolivia is exemplary of how local corruption combined with lacking economic opportunities in many rural areas of Paraguay have fueled the country's growing involvement in the transnational drug trade.
Paraguay is currently the largest producer of marijuana in South America, and nearly all of the drug is destined for the international black market. San Pedro, the department where Godoy Segovia served as a political figure, is one of Paraguay's poorest and reportedly one of its most corrupt. Collusion of local politicians and police with criminal groups, a lack of a state presence and limited opportunities for impoverished farmers have made departments like San Pedro fertile ground for the illicit marijuana industry.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Paraguay
Although the Cartes administration has recently ramped up marijuana seizures and eradication, as well as increased cooperation with neighboring countries, much of this short-term progress could be political maneuvering for the ruling party ahead of next year's presidential election. And marijuana production appears to be booming in Paraguay, potentially feeding the coffers of crime groups and the corrupt authorities assisting their activities.
* Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the amount of marijuana confiscated in the seizure.