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Paraguay's Manhunt for Missing Brazilian Prisoners Continues

PARAGUAY / 15 AUG 2022 BY CHRIS DALBY EN

A large-scale search operation for four missing Brazilian prisoners is into its second week in Paraguay, following a mass escape from a prison in the south of the country.

Eight days after 35 prisoners broke out of the Misiones prison near Paraguay's border with Argentina, 31 of the escapees have been recaptured, according to a news report by Noticias Paraguay.

Most of the escapees were members of the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC), Brazil's largest criminal gang, which has established a strong presence in Paraguay.

But the hunt for the final four has become international as authorities believed they may have sought to cross over into Argentina. In the Argentine province of Corrientes, a joint police and military operation is on to try and find the missing PCC members.

SEE ALSO: Prosecutors, Mayors and Prison Directors - Paraguay's Frightening Assassination Problem

According to Paraguay’s Security Minister Cecilia Pérez, the prisoners escaped during family visiting hours on August 7, taking guards hostage before scaling down the prison's walls via a rope made from bedsheets. With the prison just 100 kilometers from Argentina, security officials identified early on that some of the escapees may have headed for the border.

Heads have already begun to roll. Amid claims that guards may have been complicit in the escape, the prison director and the regional head of prisons who oversaw Misiones have been fired, while the justice minister also offered his resignation.

InSight Crime Analysis

Prison escapes in Paraguay are common and it seems that no government action can stop them.

After this latest break out, President Mario Abdo ordered that the Misiones prison be put under special management for 30 days while the investigation to find those responsible is carried out. But firing a prison director and guards is unlikely to change much.

Prisoners, especially from the PCC, have regularly managed to escape despite these crackdowns.

In 2019, after an infamously violent riot between the PCC and their Paraguayan rivals, Clan Rotela, left 10 prisoners dead, Abdo ordered military units, including tanks, to surround prisons.

But in January 2020, up to 75 members of the PCC escaped from a penitentiary in the border city of Pedro Juan Caballero near Brazil via a tunnel that had taken three weeks to dig. It is hard to believe such a complex operation could have been completed without being noticed by the soldiers inside and outside the prison. Indeed, Pérez suggested guards had received up to $80,000 to look the other way.

SEE ALSO: Pedro Juan Caballero – The Descent into Madness of a Paraguay Border Town

Other times, even if an escape was not successful, it showed that criminal groups were hardly intimidated by security forces. In January 2021, around 40 alleged PCC members assaulted a police jail in Pedro Juan Caballero to free one of their leaders. Several police officers were taken hostage although police reinforcements were able to fight off the gang and rescue their colleagues.

Ultimately, little since the Misiones escape suggests the government has any new ideas. With a small cocaine kitchen openly being run inside one prison and senior officials allegedly being drug traffickers, it seems unlikely that Paraguay’s control over its penitentiaries is going to improve soon.

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