Are Politics Behind Paraguay’s Spiking Marijuana Seizures?

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A sharp increase in marijuana seizures and eradication in Paraguay this year is likely only a temporary trend attributable to political factors rather than a sign of long-term change.

More than 728 metric tons of marijuana were seized in Paraguay during the first half of this year, EFE reported on July 3. This is more than twice last year’s annual seizure of 276 tons. It is also equivalent to more than 40 percent of Paraguay’s total marijuana seizures from 2013 to 2016, which added up to 1,676 metric tons.

The current rate of seizures suggests Paraguay will seize around 1,500 tons of marijuana this year, well above seizure amounts seen in recent years, according to figures from Paraguay’s National Anti-Narcotic Secretary (Secretario Nacional Antidrogas – SENAD).

Meanwhile, the country eradicated 1,187 hectares of marijuana plantations this year. Estimates based on the current rate suggest that Paraguay will destroy approximately 2,400 hectares this year, the highest figure in a decade.

Officials said these were the results of increased interdiction efforts, especially on the country’s river network. They also highlighted the role of international cooperation with neighboring countries.

According to the 2017 World Drug Report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Paraguay ranked third worldwide in terms of annual marijuana seizures between 2010 and 2015.

Meanwhile, a recent report from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says deforestation in Paraguay increased between 2015 and 2016, arguing that “the main motive for the deterioration of woods is the creation of numerous small plots for the cultivation of marijuana,” reported Última Hora.

InSight Crime Analysis

A large increase in seizures over a short period of time can be the result of several factors, such as rising drug production or increased focus and capacity on the part of anti-drug authorities. In Paraguay’s case, law enforcement officials likely deserve part of the credit due to increased interdiction efforts, but this does not necessarily signal significant and lasting positive change.

To be sure, authorities have repeatedly succeeded in discovering large multi-ton marijuana stocks, and Paraguay has indeed increased cooperation with its neighbors on international anti-narcotic operations. But in an email to InSight Crime, Laurence Blair, a freelance journalist who has reported on Paraguay’s marijuana trade, also suggested that the political context shaped by next year’s presidential election may have prompted the ruling political camp to look for short-term results on which to campaign next year.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Paraguay

Although he agreed that authorities’ improved interdiction efforts were likely part of the explanation for this year’s spike in seizures, Blair highlighted that important drivers of Paraguay’s marijuana trade remain unaddressed.

“As SENAD officials have told me in person, seizing and burning marijuana is not a silver bullet,” Blair told InSight Crime. “In fact, it often serves to boost prices and thus supply in the short term. It can damage profits, but until SENAD and prosecutors are powerful enough to go after the criminal structures, including regional and national political figures, narcotrafficking will remain a problem.”

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