One of Paraguay’s most sparsely populated but most homicidal departments, Alto Paraguay serves as an important cocaine transit corridor.
The department’s vast stretches of uninhabited land and absent radar coverage provide perfect conditions for housing clandestine airstrips, used to refuel planes coming from Bolivia, which then continue mostly to Brazil or drop cargo to be hauled by land into neighboring nations. There appears to be less overland trafficking between Alto Paraguay and Bolivia or Brazil, most likely due to the hostile nature of the border terrain.
No major criminal actors have presence in Alto Paraguay.
Arms Trafficking: Arms trafficking is not a significant criminal economy in the Chaco region, which includes Alto Paraguay. However, criminal groups that receive aerial drug shipments most likely use firearms to protect their cargo. Arms seizures are typically low in the department; only three weapons were seized in 2019, compared to just one in 2018.
Cocaine: Paraguay’s National Anti-Drug Secretariat (Secretaría Nacional Antidrogas – SENAD) did not report any cocaine seizures between 2017 and 2019. However, criminal groups use cattle ranches to house hidden runways, where planes carrying drugs from Bolivia stop to refuel or to load aerial shipments onto trucks bound for the border with Brazil. Several so-called cocaine “kitchens” have also been found in the department, suggesting that some stages of the cocaine production chain are carried out in Alto Paraguay.
Cannabis: The cannabis trafficking economy in Alto Paraguay is limited to a local consumption market. Cannabis is brought to the department from eastern Paraguay using river routes. Seizures are minimal; only five kilograms of marijuana was seized in 2018, compared to six kilograms in 2019. The neighboring department of Boquerón is used to move cannabis into Argentina and Bolivia. Some of this transit may pass through Alto Paraguay.
Human Trafficking: Human trafficking networks are active in Alto Paraguay, engaged in sex and labor trafficking. One network purportedly subjects girls to sexual exploitation in both Paraguay and Brazil. In addition, members of the indigenous community are exploited with long hours of work for no pay. Human trafficking is generally an underreported crime, so it is difficult to estimate the size of the criminal economy. However, the Chaco region is sparsely populated, with few urban centers, so it is likely that human trafficking is not as prominent as in large cities.
Sources: This profile is based on remote interviews with local actors in Fuerte Olimpo, Alto Paraguay, in addition to a field investigation in the neighboring department of Boquerón and four trips to Asunción where InSight Crime spoke to Interior Ministry officials, the Attorney General´s Office, the National Anti-Drug Secretariat (SENAD), the Secretariat for the Prevention of Money or Assest Laundering (Secretaría de Prevención de Lavado de Dinero o Bienes – SEPRELAD), Paraguay’s anti-human trafficking unit, prison officials, the National Directorate of Civil Aviation (Dirección Nacional de Aeronautica Civil – DINAC), police intelligence officials, and anti-narcotics prosecutor, custom officials, an international organization working on the prevention of torture, officials from Alto Paraguay’s governor’s office, non-governmental organizations working on indigenous rights and environmental issues, and local journalists, most of whom requested anonymity. InSight Crime also drew from information provided by Paraguay’s Interior Ministry, the General Directory of Statistics, Surveys and Censuses, and local press.
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