Brazilian police warned that Paraguay has become a base of operations for Brazil’s criminal organizations, which are seeking to cut middlemen out of the drug trade that goes through the neighboring country, particularly the flow of marijuana.
The Brazilian Federal Police’s representative in Paraguay, Antonio Celso dos Santos, told newspaper Folha de São Paulo that Paraguay is increasingly becoming an outpost for Brazilian drug trafficking organizations. He named the First Capital Command (Primer Comando Capital – PCC), Red Command (Comando Vermelho) and a faction of the so-called Friends of Friends (Amigos dos Amigos).
He said that the groups are relocating to Brazil’s much poorer neighbor Paraguay in order to avoid capture and go about their business more easily. “If I were a criminal and looking for a place that had few police, where the chances of me going to prison were small, which has great mobility and is close to my consumer market, it would be Paraguay,” he said.
Celso explained that in addition to enjoying the relatively lax law enforcement, Brazilian criminal organizations are shifting operations to Paraguay in an effort to eliminate intermediaries, and keep more of the drug profits for themselves. Previously, these gangs had to pay middlemen for drugs that had already been trafficked into Brazil.
Brazil’s criminal groups have been trying for some years to eliminate middlemen, and take over wholesale trafficking, according to the police officer. Celso explained that by utilizing their new “offices” over the border, these gangs “will cease to be mere consumers, buyers and distributors of drugs in Brazil [and] become owners of the market.”
Much of the product these gangs are dealing with is cocaine which comes south from Bolivia and Peru and then is taken over the relatively unguarded border into Brazil. Paraguay is also a major producer of marijuana — the biggest in South America, according to the 2010 World Drug Report.
The PCC and Red Command arose in the 1980s in Brazil’s prisons. While drawing followers for their political discourse, they centered their economic efforts on controlling the drug trade in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, respectively. In addition to their expansionary ambitions, the Red Command are moving into the neighboring country to avoid the security crackdown by authorities in their home city, Rio.
According to Celso, Paraguay’s government is trying to fight the Brazilian groups, but the country’s harsh geography “favors the traffickers.” The officer also pointed to police corruption as a temptation for criminal organizations to move their operations in the area.
According to Celso the Brazilian groups operate mainly in the border region, with the PCC present mostly in the northern region around the towns of Pedro Juan Caballero and Salto del Guaira, while the Red Command operates further south in the region close to Capitan Bado. Due to the harsh terrain and limited transport routes, these groups often use remote Paraguayan farms as a base for operations.
Celso had criticism for Brazil’s commitment to combating crime, stating that the authorities were better at producing rhetoric than results. He stressed that the two countries need to increase their cooperation in order to better combat drug trafficking in the region.
There has already been some regional cooperation between the neighbors. Paraguay’s National Anti-drug Secretariat, Senad, works with, and receives funds from, Brazil’s government. This cooperation has funded joint marijuana eradication missions in the northeastern regions which border Brazil. Senad has also partnered with the Brazilian Federal Police (DPF) in a joint program to combat marijuana production and trafficking using DPF technical expertise and equipment, including helicopters and remote sensors.
Celso suggested that the two countries should increase intelligence sharing. He said that Brazil has “great problems getting information from border officials on the Paraguayan side, and vice versa, and the criminals end up taking advantage of the situation.”