Paraguay’s capital is a transit point for Bolivian cocaine shipped through the Tri-Border area, bound for Brazil. The Paraguay River, which passes through Asunción, also serves as a smuggling route for cocaine and marijuana shipments heading south into Argentina. Along with drugs, illegal firearms are also trafficked from Asunción to Ciudad del Este and Brazil.

Foreign criminal actors reportedly maintain a presence in the city, though they do not appear to wage turf wars.

Criminal Actors

Rotela Clan: The Rotela Clan controls the sale of crack in Asunción’s impoverished neighborhoods and its prison, Tacumbú. The clan is led by two incarcerated brothers, Javier Armando and Oscar Rotela. Authorities claim the group controls half of Paraguay’s crack market nationwide. The clan’s membership could range from anywhere between 1,000 to 5,000 recruits, as the group hires inmates as mercenaries.

First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital PCC): PCC leaders and members have been arrested in the capital city, but there is not enough evidence to confirm whether the group manages criminal operations in the area.

Red Command (Comando Vermelho – CV): There is no evidence that the CV has set up drug trafficking operations in Asunción. It has, however, planned and carried out attacks to break out some of its leaders from police custody or prison.

Criminal Economies

Arms Trafficking: Asunción is a transit point for firearms being smuggled to other border cities, such as Ciudad del Este and Pedro Juan Caballero. Arms trafficking networks hold large stockpiles of weapons in the department. In 2019, authorities seized 227 weapons in Asunción. It is not clear what type of firearms these were, but in previous years, seized weapons have ranged from small arms to assault rifles and machine guns. Weapons have also entered legally from the United States and then transited within the country as contraband, although a 2018 bill restricting the import of US weapons has diminished arms flows. In other parts of the country, arms have been traced back to Argentina’s security forces, a sign that they enter from the neighboring country. In addition, disassembled firearm parts and ammunition can enter Paraguay through the Asunción International Airport (ammunition found in the country has been traced back to Colombia and China). These weapons are stored in Asunción before being sent to Pedro Juan Caballero and Ciudad del Este, where they are sold to criminal groups, including the PCC. In sum, arms trafficking is a sizeable market, reaching into the millions and perhaps tens of millions of dollars.

Cocaine: Asunción is a transit point for Bolivian cocaine trafficked to Argentina, Europe, and even Africa. Containers laden with drugs travel along the Paraguay and Paraná rivers to Uruguay and Argentina, bound for domestic markets as well as Europe and Africa. Asunción is also the epicenter of crack consumption in Paraguay. Crack is processed in laboratories near the border with Brazil and then transported using overland routes. Cocaine seizures, however, are not common. In 2019, authorities seized just 26 kilograms of cocaine. The lack of seizures may be a sign of corruption or an inability to detect drugs shipped abroad in containers. The market is not as big as places such as Amambay, but it does appear to be in the tens of millions of dollars.

Cannabis: Asunción is primarily a transit point for cannabis produced in northern Paraguay, bound for Argentina. Criminal groups smuggle marijuana along the Paraguay River, which crosses the department, or transport the drug in buses heading to Argentina. In 2019, authorities seized 2.2 tons of cannabis. Like most major cities, Asunción has a large market for cannabis consumption, reaching into the tens of millions of dollars.

Environmental Crime: Between 2017 and 2019, most operations aimed at curbing wildlife trafficking took place in the Asunción department, confirming the existence of a local market for trafficked fauna. The frequency of arrests and seizures linked to wildlife trafficking suggests a lucrative criminal market. Wildlife traffickers are usually individuals or very small groups, as opposed to major criminal networks.

Human Trafficking: Human trafficking is an underreported crime in Paraguay. It is thus difficult to estimate the size of this criminal economy. Asunción, the country’s capital, is a hotspot for sex trafficking. Some trafficking victims are forced into working for criminal groups.

Money Laundering: Several front companies in Asunción conduct bogus commercial operations with the aim of laundering illicit funds. In one case, a criminal organization that sold marijuana in Chile used Japanese vehicle imports as a means of laundering money.

Sources: This profile is based on four field investigations in Asunción where InSight Crime interviewed Interior Ministry officials, the Attorney General’s Office, the National Anti-Corruption Secretariat (Secretaría Nacional Anticorrupción – SENAC), the National Anti-Drug Secretariat (Secretaría Nacional Antidrogas – SENAD), the Secretariat for the Prevention of Money or Assets 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, antinarcotics prosecutors, customs officials, the governor’s office, non-governmental institutions working on human rights, community leaders, 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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