A shocking murder in Uruguay has drawn attention to Paraguay’s role as the nation’s biggest marijuana supplier, but upcoming drug legalization could potentially alter this dynamic.
On February 6, Paraguayan couple Ramón Quevedo Arce and Claudia Guerrero were driving near the Uruguayan city of Ciudad de la Costa when another vehicle pulled alongside them and fired 14 shots. Both were killed, and Arce’s vehicle also struck and killed a 16 year old girl. The couple’s young son survived by lying on the floor of the car, reported Cróncia.
Police have said they believe Arce’s killing is connected to marijuana trafficking, and that the victim had previously been suspected of involvement in a network that smuggled large quantities of Paraguayan marijuana into neighboring countries, according to Republica.
“More than 90 percent” of marijuana consumed in Uruguay comes from Paraguay, Uruguay’s counternarcotics sub-director Carlos Inzaurralde told El Pais. The drug is normally pressed into bricks and hidden in vehicles crossing in from Argentina and Brazil or thrown from clandestine airplanes, Insaurralde added.
Marijuana trafficking routes (courtesy of El Pais)
Additionally, the trade appears to be growing, with Uruguayan authorities seizing 2,521 kilograms of marijuana in 2015, up from 1,457 kilos in 2014, El Pais reported.
In the wake of the violent incident, Uruguay police said they will look deeper into trafficking networks. However, a connection between Paraguayan politicians and drug traffickers will present a challenge, an unnamed counternarcotics official told El Pais.
InSight Crime Analysis
As South America’s largest marijuana cultivator, it is no surprise Paraguay is Uruguay’s biggest supplier. However, the latter is in the process of implementing reforms to legalize marijuana, which may impact Paraguayan suppliers.
Uruguay already allows citizens to grow up to six marijuana plants for personal use, and legal commercial sales are expected to begin in August or September 2016 at prices of around $1.50 a gram, The Washington Office on Latin America’s (WOLA) Communications Officer Geoff Ramsey told InSight Crime
Ramsey added that while this may be the same or even slightly higher than illegal street prices, consumers are likely to choose legal marijuana due to its superior quality.
“Paraguayan cannabis has been found to be contaminated with everything from fungus, pesticides and even heavy metals. So users will eventually switch over to a safer product,” Ramsey said.
However, if Paraguayan smugglers are pushed out of Uruguay, the much larger drug markets of Brazil and Argentina still offer lucrative profits, meaning Uruguay’s marijuana legalization is unlikely to significantly disrupt Paraguayan marijuana production.