Was Brazil Crime Boss Behind the Havoc in Paraguay Prisons?

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A day of confusion and prison disturbances that led to the firing of Paraguay’s top judicial and prison authorities may have been part of a plan by an infamous Brazilian convict to block his extradition process, exemplifying the political power crime bosses can exert even from behind bars.

Convicted Brazilian criminal Jarvis Chimenes Pavão was moved from Tacumbú penitentiary to a Specialized Police Unit facility on the night of July 26, and accused of plotting nationwide prison riots to pressure the government to halt his planned 2017 extradition to Brazil, ABC Color reported.

The series of events began in the afternoon of July 25 in Tacumbú, when six detainees — helped by two guards — attempted to detonate an improvised explosive aimed at facilitating a mass prisonbreak. A security guard foiled the plan and deactivated the bomb. That same day, prisoners rioted and held a security guard hostage in Concepción prison.

SEE ALSO:  InDepth: Prisons

On the morning of July 26, the Specialized Police Unit prepared to move Pavão from Tacumbú to their facility, upon orders from President Horacio Cartes.

But the prison director refused to allow Pavão’s transfer, claiming that a judicial order required him to stay put, the head of the specialized unit later explained. President Cartes then fired Justice Minister Carla Bacigalupo along with the country’s top prison authorities, replacing Bacigalupo with Justice Vice Minister Éver Martínez. Martínez associated Cartes’ decision with the “instability” of the prison system, adding that “urgent measures” had since been implemented.

Among those measures was the successful transfer of Pavão out of Tacumbú — a move that lead to revelations about the luxurious conditions the Brazilian convict enjoyed behind bars. His lawyer asserted that Pavão had also financed many improvements within the prison facility.

Footage of Pavão’s prison cell, c/o ABC Color

Furthermore, intelligence reports suggested Pavão had planned to spark disturbances across the country’s prison system. Pavão — who was arrested in December 2009 — is currently serving an eight-year jail term in Paraguay before going on to serve three sentences for drug trafficking and money laundering in Brazil. The United States is reportedly requesting his extradition as well.

According to police sources cited by ABC Color, the convict used a cell phone to continue running drug and arms trafficking into Brazil via the Paraguayan border city of Pedro Juan Caballero. Pavão was furthermore accused of ordering the murder of rival drug trafficker Jorge Rafaat in Pedro Juan Caballero on June 15.

InSight Crime Analysis

Pavão’s case is an illustration of the control wielded by criminal bosses within Latin America’s prison systems, as well as the political power they seek — often successfully — to gain personal benefits.

The Brazilian convict has reason to resist extradition to his home country. According to ABC Color, the Brazilian justice system would seize all of his assets, and Pavão has been stubbornly fighting the move by legal means.

A show of force such as sparking riots across the country’s jails could well have been used as a threatening reminder of the government’s lack of control over its own penal institutions. Indeed, it is not uncommon in Latin America for prison systems to be run by a handful of powerful inmates.

Byron Lima, dubbed Guatemala’s “king” of prisons, established his fiefdom across the country’s penitentiaries before being mysteriously assassinated during a prison riot in July 2016. He was believed to have hand-picked the country’s top prison authorities and regularly call in favors from government officials.

In Venezuela, the notorious prison bosses, or “pranes,” run criminal operations within jails and beyond, and are thought to control some of the country’s “mega-gangs.” In El Salvador, violent gangs have long been directed by an imprisoned leadership, known as the “ranfla.”

Nor would Pavão be the first crime boss to flex his muscle in an attempt to avoid extradition.

SEE ALSOCoverage of Extradition

Over the 1980s and 1990s, famed Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar waged a bloody war against the state when the government threatened to extradite him and other Medellín Cartel members to the United States. He was successful, to an extent, compelling congress in 1991 to ban extradition and negotiating his incarceration at a luxurious “prison” complex Escobar had built for that purpose. He ended up walking out of his special prison and was gunned down by security forces months later.

On the other hand, Pavão’s attorney suggested authorities have focused the spotlight on him to distract attention from their lack of control over the prison system. Pavão’s lawyer Laura Casuso told Red Guaraní TV that his transfer had been a surprising, unjustified move with political motives. She said that authorities wanted to draw attention away from the frustrated escape at Tacumbú — for which she claimed Pavão was not even being investigated.

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