Paraguay and Brazil authorities say they destroyed nearly 67 metric tons of marijuana in a joint operation, but the figure pales in comparison to Paraguay's estimated pot production.
Authorities of the neighboring countries found and destroyed 57.8 metric tons of loose marijuana and a further 9.1 metric tons of pressed marijuana over 12 days of aerial and ground operations, Paraguay's Anti-Narcotics Secretariat (Secretaría Nacional Antidrogas - SENAD) reported.
Operation "New Alliance XIII" -- which was based in the Paraguayan border district of Pedro Juan Caballero, the capital of Amambay department -- also resulted in the eradication of 162 hectares of the illegal crop, equivalent to taking 486 metric tons of marijuana out of circulation. A further 350 kilograms of marijuana seed and 103 camps for processing and storage of the plants were destroyed, according to EFE.
In total, the operation reportedly suppressed the circulation of over 553 metric tons of marijuana, equivalent to a loss of around $16.6 million for drug traffickers.
The operation was part of an ongoing collaboration between the SENAD and Brazil's Federal Police based on the two nations' shared responsibility for eliminating marijuana production and trafficking. Paraguay is South America's biggest marijuana producer, and Brazil is its biggest consumer market, EFE reported.
Since August 2013, seven "New Alliance" operations have been carried out resulting in the eradication of 2,269 hectares of cannabis -- equivalent to an estimated 6,807 metric tons of the drug -- while another 270.4 metric tons of marijuana have been destroyed. This is estimated to have inflicted a total loss of $212.3 million on the illegal business.
InSight Crime Analysis
A big bust like this may sound impressive, but in reality Paraguay still has a long way to go to improve its weak law enforcement efforts, which have to be periodically propped up by international operations with Brazil and the United States.
InSight Crime investigations from 2014 led to estimates that the South American country may be producing up to 40,000 tons of marijuana per year -- suggesting this recent seizure barely makes a dent in Paraguay's overall drug trade.
A further challenge for Paraguayan authorities is the country's strategic geographical position, which makes it a key transit point for Bolivian and Peruvian cocaine heading into Brazil. Pedro Juan Caballero in particular is thought to be at the heart of this coveted drug route. Brazilian drug gangs including the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital - PCC) and the Red Command (Comando Vermelho - CV) have a strong presence there, and in recent years the city has seen spasms of fatal violence linked to organized crime.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Paraguay
Most recently, a renowned drug trafficker was killed in a June 15 ambush on a street in Pedro Juan Caballero by attackers armed with a .50 caliber machine gun.
However, changes may be in store for Paraguay's anti-drug body. This operation comes at the start of a new administration within SENAD, whose former director Luis Rojas resigned following a botched operation in which his agents fired on a vehicle, killing a three-year-old girl.
Retired Col. Hugo David Vera Quintana was named minister of the secretariat in late June, and has highlighted the need for local development as well as international cooperation in the fight against drug trafficking.
One of Rojas' attributes was that he was successful at keeping the media spotlight on Paraguay's struggle against organized crime and the corruption that facilitates it, even within his own institution. His strong stance on these issues probably account for some of the harsh criticism Rojas came under after the botched operation. Keeping these issues front and center will be one of Vera's big challenges.