HomeNewsLandlocked Paraguay Becoming Major Cocaine Link to Europe

Landlocked Paraguay Becoming Major Cocaine Link to Europe


The son of a former Paraguayan congressman has been accused of overseeing large cocaine shipments to Europe, illustrating how corrupt elites have influenced Paraguay's emergence as a top supplier of the European cocaine pipeline.

Fernando Enrique Balbuena Acuña, alias "Riki," was arrested on January 9 amid a series of raids, according to statements by Paraguay's National Anti-Drug Secretariat (Secretaría Nacional Antidrogas - SENAD). Balbuena Acuña is the son of former Cordillera department congressman Elvis Ramón Balbuena. The father has not been accused of any wrongdoing, and he has told the Paraguayan media that he has no contact with his son.

A 7-month investigation by SENAD led to the arrest of Balbuena Acuña and three other people, including a Ukrainian national. Authorities also seized nearly a ton of cocaine on a property just 200 meters from Balbuena Acuña's home outside of the capital of Asunción.

According to SENAD, Balbuena Acuña was allegedly responsible for "the collection and shipment" of large loads of cocaine via the Paraguay-Paraná waterway. The drugs were then smuggled to Europe.

Days after Balbuena Acuña's arrest, the former director of the Tacumbú Penitentiary, the country's largest prison, was arrested for alleged participation in Balbuena Acuña's trafficking organization. Julio Acevedo, himself a former advisor to Congress, was arrested on January 11, alongside his son.

This is not Acevedo's first arrest as he previously served two years in prison for failing in his duties as prison director to shut down the production of child pornography within the penitentiary. This did not slow his efforts, however, to secure public office as he has previously campaigned for various government positions in Alto Paraguay.

In relation to the recent accusations of his role providing logistical support for the trafficking operation, Acevedo has vehemently denied any involvement.

SEE ALSO: How Paraguay Emerged as Major Cocaine Exporter to Europe

The route used to move the cocaine was the same seen in record-breaking hauls seized at German and Belgian ports last year. The route starts in the Port of Asunción, traveling by boat until the cargo reaches the Paraná River, according to La Nación. Ultimately, the narcotics reach the Atlantic through Buenos Aires, Argentina, before making the journey to Europe.

InSight Crime Analysis

Though often overlooked, Paraguay has emerged as a significant exporter of cocaine to Europe and beyond.

While discussing another year of record-breaking seizures at the port of Antwerp, Belgian Customs Administrator Kristian Vanderwaeren told reporters that the nearly 90 tons of seized cocaine mainly had come from three countries: Panama, Ecuador and Paraguay.

Traffickers have traditionally piggybacked their operations on container ships sailing from Brazil's ports. However, increased port security and scrutiny of Brazil-sourced containers have led trafficking organizations to seek out other options for cocaine shipments. Paraguay fits that bill, thanks to heavily-trafficked ports that feed into the Paraná River, one of South America's major waterways.

SEE ALSO: 'Police Stole Cocaine Shipment in Paraguay'

Corruption has also made Paraguay hospitable to traffickers.

A 2021 investigation by InSight Crime revealed a slew of cases involving congress members, police, judicial officials and prosecutors accused of facilitating the drug trade. This included Congressman Ulises Quintana, who allegedly protected accused drug trafficker Javier Cabaña Santacruz, alias "Cucho." Quintana allegedly served as an intermediary for Cucho, speaking to him by phone after authorities arrested one of his operators with $190,000 in cash.

While Paraguay has clearly become a springboard for cocaine to Europe, the country also appears to be a gateway for drugs headed to West Africa.

In 2019, more than a ton of cocaine was seized over four days at Senegal's port of Dakar, including 800 kilograms discovered in a shipment of Renault vehicles.

More recently, in February 2021, the Ivory Coast recorded its largest drug bust, seizing a ton of cocaine. an unidentified source told Reuters that the cocaine originated in Paraguay.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


Related Content

COCAINE / 19 MAY 2022

Europe’s increasing demand for cocaine means the drug is now being producing in Europe by local criminals with help of…

COCAINE / 26 JAN 2023

Corrupt Navy troops in Ecuador can be highly useful for drug traffickers, either to protect cocaine shipments or to simply…

COCAINE / 18 MAY 2022

Early investigations indicate the CJNG is striking partnerships with drug rings in Guatemala that receive shipments of cocaine from Colombia…

About InSight Crime


Escaping Barrio 18

27 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an investigation charting the story of Desafío, a 28-year-old Barrio 18 gang member who is desperate to escape gang life. But there’s one problem: he’s…


Europe Coverage Makes a Splash

20 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an analysis of the role of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport as an arrival hub for cocaine and methamphetamine from Mexico.  The article was picked up by…


World Looks to InSight Crime for Mexico Expertise

13 JAN 2023

Our coverage of the arrest of Chapitos’ co-founder Ovidio Guzmán López in Mexico has received worldwide attention.In the UK, outlets including The Independent and BBC…


InSight Crime Shares Expertise with US State Department

16 DEC 2022

Last week, InSight Crime Co-founder Steven Dudley took part in the International Anti-Corruption Conference organized by the US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, & Labor and…


Immediate Response to US-Mexico Marijuana Investigation

9 DEC 2022

InSight Crime’s investigation into how the legalization of marijuana in many US states has changed Mexico’s criminal dynamics made a splash this week appearing on the front page of…