Prosecutors, mayors, prison directors, relatives of officials - Paraguay is grappling with a wave of assassinations that risks becoming a permanent criminal tactic in the country.
On June 19, Óscar Daniel González Olmedo was gunned down in western Asunción. From July to October 2020, he had served as director of the infamous Tacumbú Prison. The largest prison in the country, it houses members of Paraguay’s top homegrown gang, the Rotela Clan, alongside their rivals, Brazil's First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC).
Two weeks before being removed from his job as director, González Olmedo reportedly helped to initiate a police operation within the prison that ransacked a fully operational drug laboratory. This may have cost millions of dollars in drug revenue to those involved. The director was allegedly relieved from his position after receiving death threats related to this operation.
While no firm evidence has been revealed to date, the investigation for Pecci's killing has focused on the PCC. Brazil's largest gang allegedly had planned to carry out the hit on Pecci on Paraguay but could not get it done in time, according to the BBC, citing Colombian police officials.
Finally, on May 17, José Carlos Acevedo, mayor of the Paraguayan border city of Pedro Juan Caballero, was shot while driving his car, and died five days later. The city is a crucial criminal nexus for marijuana and cocaine trafficking between Paraguay and Brazil, and its local officials have been heavily suspected of corruption.
Acevedo was not the first member of his family to be assassinated. His niece was shot dead last October in the city and other relatives involved in politics have repeatedly been targeted. Again, the PCC were heavily suspected of involvement in both of these killings.
InSight Crime Analysis
While all three cases outlined above have tentatively been connected to the PCC, there is no formal evidence of that gang's involvement. However, Paraguay's institutionalized corruption, broad impunity and increasing levels of cocaine and marijuana trafficking have created the perfect backdrop for such assassinations to take place.
In a country where links between organized crime and political elites have tarnished former presidents, senators, lawmakers and government ministers, Pecci and González Olmedo may have stood out for trying to fight back.
Unlike his predecessors at Tacumbú Prison, González Olmedo was threatened after helping to dismantle a major drug laboratory. Former prison directors have been fired for allowing individuals to enter the prison without permission or for being gifted firearms by inmates.
By breaking this cycle, González Olmedo may have crossed a red line. In fact, newspaper Ultima Hora cited Paraguay's national police chief, Gilberto Fleitas, stating that the hit on the former director was ordered from within Tacumbú itself.
Meanwhile, Pecci was a rare figure in Paraguay, a crusading prosecutor targeting Brazilian and domestic drug traffickers, as well as the politicians who aided them. Plenty of people would have wanted to silence him.
“They are all on a glass roof. They are afraid of falling. And when they fall, very important people and a very complex structure will fall too,” one Paraguayan anti-narcotics agent, who requested anonymity, told InSight Crime the day after Pecci's murder.
As for Acevedo, the truth may be murkier. He was on his third term as mayor of Pedro Juan Caballero, a city that the Acevedo political clan has controlled for years. The family has faced regular criminal allegations.
His niece, who was also the daughter of the current governor of the Amambay department, was in a car with a known drug trafficker when she was shot dead last October. The hit was allegedly traced back to a rival drug dealer in prison. But when police raided the dealer's cell, they found him in the company of the daughter of Pedro Juan Caballero's healthcare secretary.