In Concepción, powerful drug traffickers have penetrated local politics. With corruption rife, some municipalities have started to resemble criminal enclaves.
The department is the birthplace of the Paraguayan People’s Army (Ejército del Pueblo Paraguayo – EPP) and its breakaway factions, who are primarily engaged in kidnapping and extortion.
Along with marijuana production, Concepción is also a hotspot for aerial cocaine trafficking. The department has been home to some of the region’s most powerful drug lords.
Paraguayan People’s Army (Ejército del Pueblo Paraguayo – EPP): Concepción is the birthplace of the EPP and remains one of the departments where the group is most active. The EPP has carried out various kidnappings in the department and is said to levy a tax on both wealthy businessmen and agricultural companies in the impoverished rural settings where it operates. This tax also applies to marijuana producers and cocaine traffickers operating clandestine runways in the department. The EPP’s presence facilitates drug trafficking, as police officers are reluctant to set up checkpoints at night for fear of being attacked by the group.
First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC): There is no evidence that the PCC has an established presence in Concepción, but the group purportedly sub-contracts local networks to move cocaine through the department and into Amambay.
Red Command (Comando Vermelho – CV): Like the PCC, the CV does not appear to have established a permanent presence in Concepción, instead relying on local groups to move cocaine. Authorities believe that Jorge Teófilo Samudio, alias “Samura,” is allegedly the main CV cocaine supplier along the Chaco-Concepción corridor.
Arms Trafficking: Concepción appears to be a transit point for weapons sent to Brazil via Pedro Juan Caballero in the neighboring department of Amambay. Arms seizures have increased in the last ten years, along with the presence of Brazilian organized crime groups. Commonly seized firearms include shotguns and rifles, including AK-47s. In 2019, authorities seized 30 firearms in Concepción. Various criminal groups are present in Concepción, including the EPP, the Comando Vermelho and the PCC. These criminal groups likely use firearms to protect drug shipments or for other criminal activities, making for a vibrant arms trade.
Cocaine: Concepción is a significant transit point for cocaine. Drug-laden planes arrive from Bolivia and offload their product, which is then sent to Pedro Juan Caballero in the neighboring department of Amambay, bound for Brazil. Criminal groups use rivers and roads to smuggle cocaine through the department. Cattle ranches on the river serve as makeshift ports for loading drugs onto boats, and also house clandestine airstrips. There is minimal vigilance along these drug-smuggling routes. Concepción’s small-time traffickers often smuggle drugs for larger Brazilian organizations, which do not maintain a strong presence in the department. In 2019, authorities seized three tons of cocaine. The local economy is affected when drug traffickers are arrested, highlighting the importance of this criminal economy. There is also a prominent consumption market for crack and cocaine in Concepción.
Cannabis: There is a moderate degree of cannabis production in Concepción. The PCC and the CV have a presence in the department, along with the EPP. Cannabis is produced close to the border with Brazil, where authorities have a limited presence. The PCC may control some marijuana production in the department, or hire local farmers to cultivate the product. Still, in 2019, authorities seized just two tons of cannabis in the department. The previous year, authorities had seized 68 tons of cannabis and 26 hectares of plantations (capable of producing 19.5 tons of the drug). Seeing as most production and much of the transit goes undetected, the real value of this criminal economy is likely to be very high. There is also a modest cannabis consumption market in Concepción.
Money Laundering: Drug traffickers acquire land and use cattle ranches to launder illicit funds in the department. These properties sometimes double-up as hidden runways used to receive drug shipments. Money laundering linked to drug trafficking runs deep into the department’s economy. Locals believe that the fall of major drug traffickers in the area has hurt Concepción’s economy.
Sources: This profile is based on a field investigation in Concepción and four trips to Asunción where InSight Crime interviewed political leaders, 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 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), national police, judicial officials, local prosecutors, non-governmental organizations working on human rights and environmental issues, 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.