Paraguay Authorities Foil New Plan to Free Red Command Leader

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Authorities in Paraguay have foiled, for the second time in a month, an attempt to free a Brazilian drug trafficker imprisoned in the Southern Cone nation, raising fresh questions about the presence of certain criminal groups in the country and how authorities managed to thwart the attack.

On October 24, agents from Interpol’s Paraguay division and the national police raided a house in the city of Presidente Franco in the so-called “Tri-Border” region where Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil meet. The agents engaged in a firefight with three Brazilian nationals who were believed to be planning an attack to release alleged Red Command (Comando Vermelho) leader Marcelo Pinheiro Veiga, alias “Marcelo Piloto,” from prison, ABC Color reported.

The three Brazilian nationals were killed.

Authorities uncovered a car bomb with 84 kilograms of dynamite, a van equipped with a high-powered rifle and other weapons at the house.

SEE ALSO: Red Command News and Profile

Marcelo Piloto, who is allegedly an important supplier of drugs and weapons for the Red Command, was arrested in December 2017 in the city of Cambyretá in southern Itapúa department. He is under investigation for crimes including murder and arms trafficking. Brazil has requested his extradition on a number of other criminal charges. 

This is the second time an attempt was made to free him. 

On October 4, Paraguayan and Brazilian authorities stopped the first attempt when they raided a residence in the capital Asunción and arrested five alleged Red Command members, according to an October 5 press release from Paraguay’s National Anti-Drug Secretariat (Secretaría Nacional Antidrogas – SENAD). 

SENAD agents also seized various vehicles, several high-powered weapons and ammunition, in addition to written plans of how the group was going to break Marcelo Piloto out of prison.

InSight Crime Analysis

The armament that alleged members of Brazil’s Red Command had for the planned attack to free one of their leaders suggests that the group is developing a greater capacity to carry out such activities, and may be taking a page out of the book of their rivals in the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC) who are continuing to expand their operations throughout the region.

The Red Command has for years had a presence in Paraguay in order to traffic drug shipments, but the group hasn’t deployed the same level of sophistication as the PCC has, at least not yet. In April 2017, the PCC attacked a transportation company in Paraguay’s Ciudad del Este near the Tri-Border region with military-grade weapons and explosives, stealing some $12 million in what was reportedly the biggest robbery in Paraguay’s history.

SEE ALSO: Paraguay News and Profiles

The fact that the attack was thwarted suggests that authorities in Paraguay may be getting better at tracking and combating criminal organizations operating in the country, including by cooperating with Brazilian forces. This is despite the fact that security forces have been implicated in protecting drug trafficking groups in the past, and may have even helped the PCC expand its operations in the country.

The question remains, however, if and how authorities can sustain this.

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