Following the dramatic prison break earlier this month by members of the PCC, Paraguay’s president has once again deployed troops to guard the country’s penitentiaries, despite the initial military deployment having had little discernible impact.
On January 19, 76 members of the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC) escaped from the Pedro Juan Caballero Regional Penitentiary through a tunnel dug from a cell to outside the walls.
According to Justice Minister, Cecilia Pérez, the tunnel took at least 20 days for the tunnel to be built, making it allegedly impossible for the PCC members to have outwitted all the army troops stationed outside the prison since September 2019.
After the discovery was made, the Attorney General’s Office issued warrants for arrests of 31 prison officials, including former prison director Cristian González and security chief Arnaldo Matías Báez Torres.
The Pedro Juan Caballero prison break was unprecedented. In response to the emergency situation, President Mario Abdo Benítez ordered for the deployment of police and military to reinforce security around the country’s troubled prisons.
But several months ago, in September 2019, the president had already declared a “prison emergency” after prisoners belonging to the PCC killed 10 members of Clan Rotela in the San Pedro prison. Following the declaration, the government ordered military deployments and even tanks were deployed outside state prisons, including the one in Pedro Juan Caballero.
And days after this latest escape, 26 prisoners, reportedly also PCC members, broke out from a prison in Rio Branco, Brazil on January 20.
InSight Crime Analysis
The latest round of “exceptional” security measures ordered by the president appears to follow the same exact formula that did nothing to prevent the PCC members from escaping in the first place.
In recent visits to prisons in Paraguay, InSight Crime found the presence of the military to be insubstantial, likely intended as a temporary show of force rather than as a real deterrent against riots or prison breaks. Instead, it seems more than likely that prison officials and military officers were bribed to look the other way.
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In October 2019, Paraguayan prison authorities told InSight Crime that the military deployment was intended to dissuade prisoners from escaping and to stop criminal groups from breaking out their allies. But the use of troops was only to be authorized by prison directors as a last resort in case of violence.
Nevertheless, the military’s presence outside the prisons in Concepción, Tacumbú and Pedro Juan Caballero, which InSight Crime visited, appeared to be limited to groups of seven or eight soldiers, along with unmanned tanks and armored vehicles.
Their presence appears to have been so ineffective that one prisoner who escaped from Pedro Juan Caballero prison and was later recaptured said that several PCC leaders escaped through the main door, ABC Color reported.
Days after the mass prison break, riots broke out at the Regional Mission Penitentiary. This time, clashes between members of the PCC and the Clan Rotela resulted in one death within the prison, adding to the long list of incidents in the country’s out-of-control prisons.