Brazen killings by hired gunmen have not only shaken Paraguay recently but shined a light on the growing use of this method by drug gangs when targeting their rivals.

The latest case to grab headlines occurred at a music festival near the capital Asunción, where suspected trafficker Marco Rojas Mora was gunned down. In the gunfire, influencer and model Cristina “Vita” Aranda was struck. She was taken to a hospital where she later died.

Rojas – who authorities said had links to Brazil’s most powerful gang, the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC) – was probably the intended target in the January 30 concert shooting, though he was likely not the only one, according to El País. Also injured in the gunfire were Luis Bogado Quevedo and Marcelo Monteggia.

Both men have warrants out for their arrest. Quevedo is charged with drug and arms trafficking in Brazil. Monteggia is charged with homicide in Bolivia in a case connected to drug trafficking.

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Targeted killings, known as sicariato, accounted for more than a third of Paraguay’s homicides in 2021. In January of this year, there were 27 such killings, the highest number in a single month, according to Terere Cómplice, a Paraguayan investigative media outlet.

InSight Analysis

While the bloodshed at the concert festival occurred in the country’s capital, drug turf wars along the country’s border with Brazil are primarily to blame for the recent increase in targeted killings.

Such murders are becoming routine in Amambay and Concepción, which are crucial waypoints for traffickers moving cocaine, marijuana and arms. According to a 2021 Terere Cómplice report written by investigator Jorge Rolón Luna, figures show that the homicides in departments with high drug activity are composed “primarily (of) contract killings.”

Rolón Luna, the former director of the country’s citizen security observatory, wrote that “the current violence and contract killings are the result of an intensification of drug trafficking activity, disputes between drug trafficking organizations for control of territories, routes and businesses, or the absence of a truce between rivals.”

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The PCC’s inroads into Paraguay have led to conflicts in these border regions. The group has also clashed with Paraguay’s homegrown gang, Clan Rotela. A 2019 riot that left nine dead in the San Pedro prison was over the sale and movement of drugs.

Speaking in a seminar on sicariato in Paraguay, criminologist Juan Martens asserted that Paraguay continues to fail in its duties to effectively combat top-tier criminal organizations. Resources are “misused chasing micro-traffickers, who are easily replaceable, while we let the big ones go free,” Martens said.