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Ñeembucú, Paraguay

COCAINE / 25 FEB 2021 BY INSIGHT CRIME EN

Despite boasting one of Paraguay’s lowest murder rates, Ñeembucú is an important transit point for marijuana heading to Argentina.

Seizures and drug trafficking investigations suggest that significant amounts of cannabis are smuggled from Ñeembucú across the Paraná and Paraguay rivers. The department is also considered the main departure point for drug-laden planes leaving for Argentina, and cocaine trafficking may be on the rise.

Criminal Actors

There are no major transnational criminal actors with a significant presence in Ñeembucú.

Criminal Economies

Arms Trafficking: Authorities have made some minor firearms seizures in recent years, but relatively few compared to other departments in Paraguay. There is no evidence to suggest that these seizures are linked to arms trafficking networks. The department of Ñeembucú is a secondary transit point for cocaine and marijuana shipments. Actors involved in these economies likely use firearms to protect their shipments.

Cocaine: Ñeembucú houses hidden runways, where drug planes make a stop-off before heading to Argentina. The cocaine trafficking economy is less significant than that of cannabis. Paraguay authorities have seized minimal amounts of the drug in the department – less than one kilogram of cocaine between 2017 and 2019.

Cannabis: Ñeembucú is a transit point for marijuana grown elsewhere in Paraguay, bound for Argentina. Traffickers often use the Paraná river and its many small islands as clandestine airstrips or for storage. Transnational cannabis traffickers have been arrested in Ñeembucú. In 2019, authorities seized approximately 7.5 tons of cannabis. Some reports estimate that nine to 15 tons of marijuana are trafficked through the department each month – an average of 144 tons per year. Others place that figure at 15 tons per week – equating to around 780 tons a year. One estimate says that five tons of marijuana are trafficked between Ñeembucú and Argentina every day – approximately 1,825 tons a year. Police officers in the department purportedly take bribes from traffickers moving cannabis into Argentina, ranging from $1,000 and $5,000 for large shipments. In all, this appears to be a huge criminal economy for the department.

Contraband: Fuel and cigarette smuggling are the main types of contraband in Ñeembucú. Contraband networks acquire diesel from ships transporting merchandise from Argentina. Fuel smuggling is an important and beneficial part of the local economy.

Money Laundering: Shops, vehicle sales, animal purchases, and luxury hotels are used to launder illicit funds in the department. The local economy flourishes during marijuana harvesting seasons, due to an increase in transactions.

Sources: This profile is based on a field investigation in Pilar, Ñeembucú, 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, the governor's office, local prosecutors, 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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