Authorities in Paraguay have dismantled a ring that sold a range of synthetic drugs, indicating that this subset of the drug market in the South American country continues to expand.
The bust, which took place in and around the capital of Asunción, ended with a haul of synthetics, including MDMA, better known as ecstasy; methamphetamines; LSD; and "tusi," which authorities described as a blend of MDMA and ketamine. Authorities arrested 10 men on drug charges. Four were Paraguayans and the rest foreign nationals from Brazil, Argentina and Colombia.
According to Paraguay's National Anti-Drugs Secretariat (Secretaría Nacional Antidrogas-SENAD), the June 3 operation was the first to target the domestic sale of synthetic drugs.
Newspaper Ultima Hora reported that the drugs were sold at bars, clubs and parties attended by young, wealthy Paraguayans. Doses cost between 70,000 and 300,000 Paraguayan guaranies ($10 to $45), according to Francisco Ayala, SENAD's communications director.
Ayala said the drugs seized in the operation were not manufactured in Paraguay. While their exact origin is unknown, he speculated that they were processed in Europe, moved to Brazil and then smuggled over the border to Paraguay.
He noted, however, that SENAD “cannot rule out the existence of laboratories” in the country.
InSight Crime Analysis
The range of synthetics seized in the latest operation suggests that Paraguay's drug consumption habits are diversifying and becoming more aligned with those of its neighbors.
According to a 2017 SENAD report, marijuana was the drug most commonly consumed in Paraguay, long South America’s largest cannabis producer. Cocaine and crack were also part of local drug markets, according to the report.
Spates of violence have occasionally plagued Asunción in recent years as local gangs battle for control of street sales of these drugs. The control of crack sales in prisons has been blamed for gang riots. Paraguay is also increasingly being used as a transit hub for cocaine, meaning that it is likely some is being left behind.
MDMA has been seized in the country in the past. In 2014, a massive ecstasy laboratory was dismantled in Paraguay. But the drugs, authorities said, were likely destined for Brazil and other countries. In 2018, some 30,000 pills of ecstasy were discovered in the luggage of a man arriving at the country's main airport. An official said in a news release that the drugs were for the local market and also to be smuggled to Brazil.
Synthetics popular in the region, particularly pink cocaine or tusi, appear to be making inroads in Paraguay's drug scene. While the name tusi is meant to refer to a specific drug molecule, 2-CB, it has come to stand for a mixture of a wide range of substances; the tusi seized in the latest bust was a mixture of ketamine, a tranquilizer used by veterinarians, and MDMA. The first seizure of it in Paraguay occurred in January 2021, according to an Ultima Hora report.
Paraguay is not the only country in the region to see these synthetics rising. In 2019, Uruguayan officials sounded alarms about pink cocaine flowing across its borders from Argentina. Consumption of synthetic drugs in Argentina has skyrocketed in recent years.
Chile has also seen an influx of synthetic drugs like MDMA entering the country, fueled by a strong domestic market. In Chile, these products have traditionally come from Europe, but recently there has been an uptick in seizures along the Chile-Argentina land border. The discovery of several synthetic drug laboratories in Brazil in 2019 highlighted the country's role as a producer of MDMA.
Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay’s Tri-Border Area (TBA) has long been a hub of cocaine and marijuana trafficking. Given the nationalities of those arrested in Operation New Evolution, synthetic drug smuggling could become prevalent there.