HomeNewsHow Paraguay Emerged as Major Cocaine Exporter to Europe
NEWS

How Paraguay Emerged as Major Cocaine Exporter to Europe

COCAINE / 23 APR 2021 BY SETH ROBBINS EN

Shipping containers at European ports that concealed record amounts of cocaine have come from an unlikely source: the landlocked country of Paraguay.

The latest haul — 11 tons of cocaine discovered at the Belgian port of Antwerp in early April — led to a series of raids by Paraguayan authorities on properties and offices connected to four firms allegedly linked to the shipment, Última Hora reported. One of the largest seizures recorded at the port of Antwerp, the cocaine was concealed in a shipment of leather that disembarked from Villeta, a river port near Paraguay’s capital of Asunción.

SEE ALSO: Paraguay News and Profile

Villeta was also the exit point for five shipping containers used to smuggle a record 16 tons of cocaine to Europe. The cocaine, concealed in tins of wall filler and paint, was discovered at Germany’s port of Hamburg in late February. German officials called it the largest single seizure in Europe’s history, with a street value of between 1.5 and 3.5 billion euros ($1.8 and $4.2 billion), the BBC reported.

After that seizure, Paraguay authorities raided shipping firm Envases Paraguayos and paint factory Pinturas Tupa SA, Última Hora reported.  The factory had made a number of shipments to Europe recently and used paint cans similar to those used to hide the cocaine, said Francisco Ayala, a spokesman for Paraguay’s National Anti-Drug Secretariat (Secretaría Nacional Antidrogas – SENAD).

The owner of both businesses is not under arrest but he has spoken to authorities, according to media reports. Envases Paraguayos has claimed that the export was tampered with during transit.

InSight Crime Analysis

Paraguay’s emergence as a launching pad for cocaine shipments to Europe is a result of two trends — traffickers and drug gangs setting up in the country, and their search for new maritime transatlantic drug routes.  

Paraguay has long served as a transit point for cocaine to Brazil, which has a large consumer market. In recent years, though, Brazil has become one of the major pipeline countries for moving drugs to Europe. This has, in turn, made Paraguay a critical waystation for cocaine smuggled from producing countries, such as Colombia, Peru and Bolivia.

With much of the cocaine trafficked out of Brazil controlled by the country’s main criminal group — the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC) — traffickers with ties to the gang have established themselves along the Paraguay-Brazil border.

SEE ALSO: Drug Seizures Spike Along Paraguay’s Border With Bolivia

But this month’s police raids on firms linked to the massive cocaine exports point to local businessmen who do not appear to have connections to the PCC, said Carlos Peris, a political scientist and drug trafficking expert at the Catholic University of Asunción.

Chaco, a western plain region of Paraguay that is home to large cattle ranches, contains many landing strips for drug flights, Peris told InSight Crime. Planes loaded with cocaine from Bolivia are increasingly landing in this hinterland.

Peris stated that the recent developments imply that the “market is diversifying,” and that there are “business elites involved.”

Traffickers have also penetrated Paraguay by bribing politicians and police. InSight Crime published a recent investigation on a Paraguay legislator accused of protecting a trafficker and aiding his smuggling activities, leading to warnings by security analysts that traffickers have infiltrated the highest levels of government.

Cocaine smuggled to Europe typically flows out of Brazilian ports. But Brazil has lately worked to improve controls, while European ports have ramped up inspections of the kinds of cargo, such as produce, commonly used to smuggle drugs.

The result has been a search for new routes, particularly ones out of countries that are not cocaine producers or maritime shipping hubs. Paraguay fits that bill — a landlocked country somewhat under the radar, but with a river port infrastructure.

The Villeta port, the country’s largest on the Paraná river, opened in 2018 to service large container vessels, the same ones that traffickers like to piggyback drug operations on.

They did not waste any time. In October 2020, Paraguay authorities recorded a seizure of 2.3 tons of cocaine concealed in a container of charcoal. It was the largest seizure seen in the country in a decade.

Compartir icon icon icon

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.

Related Content

COCAINE / 16 MAY 2017

Security officials in Costa Rica say they are incapable of stopping transnational drug traffickers from using the country's pristine beaches…

BRAZIL MILITIAS / 29 DEC 2020

As COVID-19 threatened the well-being of the populations they depend on for criminal income, it was largely in the interest…

ARGENTINA / 18 NOV 2016

Bolivia's interior minister acknowledged at a regional summit that many border crossings remain vulnerable to criminal activities, a reminder of…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

We Have Updated Our Website

4 FEB 2021

Welcome to our new home page. We have revamped the site to create a better display and reader experience.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Events – Border Crime: The Northern Triangle and Tri-Border Area

ARGENTINA / 25 JAN 2021

Through several rounds of extensive field investigations, our researchers have analyzed and mapped out the main illicit economies and criminal groups present in 39 border departments spread across the six countries of study – the Northern Triangle trio of Guatemala, Honduras, and El…

BRIEF

InSight Crime’s ‘Memo Fantasma’ Investigation Wins Simón Bolívar National Journalism Prize

COLOMBIA / 20 NOV 2020

The staff at InSight Crime was awarded the prestigious Simón Bolívar national journalism prize in Colombia for its two-year investigation into the drug trafficker known as “Memo Fantasma,” which was…

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – From Uncovering Organized Crime to Finding What Works

COLOMBIA / 12 NOV 2020

This project began 10 years ago as an effort to address a problem: the lack of daily coverage, investigative stories and analysis of organized crime in the Americas. …

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – Ten Years of Investigating Organized Crime in the Americas

FEATURED / 2 NOV 2020

In early 2009, Steven Dudley was in Medellín, Colombia. His assignment: speak to a jailed paramilitary leader in the Itagui prison, just south of the city. Following his interview inside…