Corruption Undermining Paraguay Efforts to Combat Drug Flights

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A top anti-narcotic prosecutor in Paraguay said that weak controls by aviation authorities have impeded the country’s fight to stop aerial drug trafficking, a possible hint at longstanding corruption among aviation regulators that has contributed to similar problems elsewhere in Latin America.

Paraguayan anti-drug prosecutor Marcelo Pecci said on May 31 that the airport in the town of Pedro Juan Caballero, in the department of Amambay near the Brazilian border, has become an “epicenter” for organized crime, reported ABC Color.

“Administrative norms don’t exist, they should be established by the DINAC, to exercise control,” Pecci said, referring to the National Civil Aviation Directorate (Dirección Nacional de Aeronáutica Civil – DINAC)

The prosecutor insisted that crime groups “continue and will continue to operate in these conditions, in this airport, and in whichever other airport in the country affected by this serious weakness that shouldn’t exist in matters of civilian aviation.”

The official’s comments came days after the dismantling of what authorities said was the largest Paraguay-based aerial drug trafficking scheme operated by Brazil’s biggest criminal group, the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC).

More than half a metric ton of Bolivian cocaine was discovered earlier this week on an illegal air strip in the Amambay department, less than two kilometers from the border with Brazil. Two pilots were arrested and an airplane was seized at the Pedro Juan Caballero airport, according to an official press release.

InSight Crime Analysis

Although Pecci did not specifically refer to corruption within DINAC, his comments are a reminder that the aviation agency has been previously implicated in cooperating with criminal elements.

In July 2015, authorities dismantled an extensive graft network involving private business owners as well as agents from both DINAC and the National Anti-Drug Secretariat (Secretaría Nacional Antidrogas – SENAD). According to Security Assistance Monitor, the “officials had conspired with criminals to bring old aircraft from the United States into the country to be ‘whitened’ (registered under false pretenses) and used for drug trafficking.”

At the center of that investigation was the Pedro Juan Caballero airport, which Security Assistance Monitor wrote “appears to have been used for little else besides making dozens, perhaps hundreds, of illicit flights throughout South America each month.”

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Paraguay

Corruption in institutions charged with overseeing aviation security has contributed to the proliferation of aerial drug trafficking in other countries in Latin America, particularly Venezuela, where repeated multi-ton seizures of cocaine shipped in both civilian and military flights have highlighted deep corruption within the Venezuelan military, which is in charge of airport security.

Stamping out corruption within DINAC and other agencies with anti-narcotic resposibilities has proven to be an uphill battle, in part due to the profitability of the drug trade, but also because powerful political and economic elites maintain ties to drug trafficking groups, thus giving them little incentive to participate in efforts to improve anti-drug controls.

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