Cooking Cocaine in Full View of Guards at Paraguay’s Largest Prison

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A drug facility was openly run by inmates inside Paraguay’s biggest prison, Tacumbú, in one of the clearest representations to date about how corruption has taken over the country’s penitentiary system.

A recent police operation inside Tacumbú discovered a homemade facility producing crack and cocaine inside the admissions area, one of the prison’s busiest sectors and where many prisoners frequently congregated.

A total of 7.5 kilograms of cocaine, along with coca paste and crack, was seized as well as ovens in which the drugs were prepared.

SEE ALSO: Overcrowded, Too Few Guards and Easy Access to Drugs in Paraguay’s Most Crowded Prison

The raid also discovered an “operations center” inside the jail belonging to drug trafficker, Jaime Andrés Franco Mendoza, that contained around $37,000 in US dollars, euros, guaraní and even South African rand.

Speaking after the operation, prosecutor Alicia Sapriza told the press that the cocaine facility could clearly be seen by guards and that the consumption of cocaine and marijuana by inmates was commonplace. The Ministry of Justice has announced a change in prison management and an investigation into the role of the prison guards has been opened.

InSight Crime Analysis

Tacumbú prison is not on a good run of form. Last year, two members of Brazil’s First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando do Capital – PCC) were murdered inside Tacumbú as part of a violent series of clashes between the Brazilian gang and the Rotela Clan.

In October 2019, Tacumbú’s then-director, Jorge Fernández, told InSight Crime about how the prison struggled with understaffing, with keeping different gangs separated and with cracking down on drug use.

Within weeks of that interview, Fernández had been fired for a range of alleged offenses and the nephew of the leader of the Rotela Clan had been killed inside the prison.

SEE ALSO: Profile of Rotela Clan

In January 2020, the government deployed troops to guard penitentiaries to crack down on violence and frequent escapes.

That a cocaine production facility could be built in full view of the guards is not surprising, given the extent of corruption in this prison. Olga Blanco, Paraguay’s former director of prisons, estimated that criminal economies inside Tacumbú generated millions of dollars.

In an interview, Blanco revealed that certain prisoners paid thousands of dollars to secure one of the prison’s “VIP cells” and were then charged $150-700 a week to gain other benefits, such as letting their partners or friends inside.

In 2016, infamous Brazilian drug trafficker, Jarvis Chimenes Pavão, was found to be living a life of luxury inside Tacumbú. He was able to continue running an international drug operation, including frequently meeting with associates.

Drug sales inside prisons have also been a significant cause of violence inside Paraguayan prisons. The Rotela Clan, the country’s foremost homegrown criminal organization, grew as a prison gang, primarily focused on the sale of crack. However, it has been fighting to keep control of this lucrative economy against the PCC that has established a firm presence in Paraguayan prisons.

In July, Justice Minister Cecilia Pérez told the press that “Tacumbú is not controlled by one person but by a mixture of groups in complicity with prison staff.”

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