Paraguay Congress Member Allegedly Protects Drug Traffickers

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A congresswoman is accused of running a network in Paraguay’s eastern border region that protects drug traffickers and assassins, which, if accurate, would fit with a pattern of regional politicians facilitating the drug trade in Latin America.

Maria Cristina Villalba, who previously served as governor in the Canindeyu province bordering Brazil, is accused of protecting a mayor suspected of orchestrating the recent murder of journalist Pablo Medina, reported Ultima Hora.

The suspect is Vilmar Acosta, mayor of Ypejhu district, who is currently a fugitive, and whose name has been linked to hired killings and the drug trade. Investigators who searched properties belonging to Mayor Acosta in connection with the journalist’s murder turned up a marijuana storage center and weapons, reported Former Interior Minister Rafael Filizzola told La Union Radio 800 AM that his office had information regarding the Acosta family’s criminal activities as far back as 2010. 

Furthermore, Villalba, who is also known as the “Queen of the North” — a play on the aliases of notorious female drug traffickers in Mexico and Guatemala — allegedly created a network dedicated to protecting drug trafficking operations by placing family members and friends in key public posts, reported Ultima Hora. Among her alleged allies is the current Canindeyu governor, Alfonso Noria, who, according to ABC, amassed a fortune in less than five years and is believed to own a number of front companies. 

Villalba has reportedly benefited from close ties to Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes, and provided financial support to his presidential campaign. 

InSight Crime Analysis

Canindeyu province is a center for marijuana production, a hub for cocaine trafficking, and is believed to serve as a base for Brazil’s Red Command drug gang. The region’s political system is vulnerable to the influence of drug traffickers, who rely on high-level connections with officials to protect their business. A woman with the political clout of Villalba — who has connections at all levels of politics and reportedly controls local police — would be an excellent contact for criminals operating in the area.

The reports regarding Villalba and Acosta come shortly after a politician claimed that several senators and government representatives had ties to the drug trade, providing more evidence that narco-infiltration is widespread in Paraguayan politics.

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The pattern of regional politicians developing links with drug trafficking is common in parts of Latin America where this illicit business has a strong presence and close ties to local economies. Examples include the former governor of Colombia’s La Guajira province, Juan Francisco “Kiko” Gomez, who allegedly worked closely with recently captured local drug and contraband boss Marcos Figueroa, alias “Marquitos;” and the former mayor of El Paraiso in Honduras, who allegedly protected the operations of the Valles drug clan.

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