Elements of Brazil's PCC prison gang appear to be behind a spike in criminal activity in eastern Paraguay, illustrating the criminal organization's use of the lawless border region to regroup and carry out illegal operations.
A group of around 20 criminals -- most of them members of Brazil's First Capital Command (PCC) -- have been robbing banks, ATMs, and armored cars in Paraguay's eastern provinces, reported ABC Color.
The gang, which is allegedly led by a Paraguayan criminal named Amado Ramon Benitez, has been blamed for a March 31 attack on two Prosegur armored vehicles, in which two cars full of armed men attempted to intercept and rob the trucks on a highway in the department of Alto Parana.
In June 2014, 11 of the group's members escaped from a prison in Brazil, and sought refuge in Paraguay's Ciudad del Este. Seven other members of the group -- who escaped from the same prison -- joined the fugitives four months later, reported ABC Color.
Almost immediately, the 18 fugitives began working for Ramon Benitez, and the number of assaults on armored vehicles, ATMs, and financial institutions began to increase in Alto Parana as well as in Paraguay's Central province, where capital city Asuncion is located.
Paraguayan authorities say the gang coordinates and plans its robberies with the support of local criminal groups.
InSight Crime Analysis
Attracted by weak law enforcement, corrupt institutions, and a large supply of marijuana, Brazilian organized crime has long had a presence in Paraguay's frontier region. Both the PCC and the Red Command (Comando Vermelho) -- Brazil's two major prison gangs -- use the area to conduct drug trafficking operations. Paraguay's anti-drug agency has previously stated that the Red Command ships a ton of cocaine from Paraguay to Brazil every month, and both groups are heavily involved in Paraguay's marijuana trade.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Paraguay
However, as the most recent case demonstrates, Paraguay is not just important to Brazilian organized crime for drug production and transit. While it is unclear whether or not the armed robbery group was operating independently or on orders from PCC leaders, Brazilian criminal organizations are reportedly establishing a permanent presence in Paraguay. These groups build local support networks, and use the lawlessness and impunity of the border region to escape persecution in Brazil and carry out illegal activities.