Takedown in Paraguay Highlights Struggle Against Aerial Trafficking

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An international operation led to the disruption of an alleged trafficking network that authorities say managed drug flights from Paraguay to other South American countries, underscoring continuing difficulties in combating aerial trafficking.

Argentina’s Federal Intelligence Agency (Agencia Federal de Inteligencia – AFI) announced on November 30 that a “mega-operation” carried out with the cooperation of Paraguayan law enforcement and the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) had brought down “the biggest organization trafficking drugs by air to Argentina, Paraguay, Chile and Uruguay.”

Authorities arrested brothers Wilfrido Bareiro Vargas and Rigoberto Bareiro Vargas, accusing them of using a clandestine airstrip in the southeast Paraguay department of Itapúa near the border with Argentina to fly cocaine and marijuana to other countries in South America.

The AFI said the group managed an average of two flights per day. Hugo Veras, the head of Paraguay’s National Anti-Drug Secretariat (Secretaría Nacional Antidrogas – SENAD), told news outlet ABC Color that the group ran up to five flights per week.

The AFI said authorities seized nearly a ton of marijuana, military-style weapons, vehicles and more than $500,000 during the operation.

InSight Crime Analysis

Drug traffickers have long used Paraguay as both a source of planes to traffic drugs and as a launching pad for drug flights. And in light of the recent operation against the Bareiro Vargas brothers, officials blamed a lack of adequate technology for their continuing shortcomings in confronting aerial trafficking.

Luis Aguirre, the head of Paraguay’s civil aviation agency, known as the Dirección Nacional de Aeronáutica Civil (DINAC), told ABC Color that the country must rely on radar information from its neighbors because it doesn’t yet have its own system.

“We’re 10 days from having radar coverage from Brazil, we’re working with Argentine radar, and we’re 15 days from buying our own. But right now, we don’t have radar,” Aguirre said.

With the new purchase, Aguirre predicted, “We are going to have a coverage that cuts off this whole situation that’s taking place.”

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Paraguay

Indeed, a lack of radar coverage contributes to Paraguay’s inability to detect and deter drug flights. But the new technology likely won’t be effective unless authorities can address another key factor behind the persistence of aerial trafficking: corruption.

Earlier this year, for example, Paraguay’s top anti-drug prosecutor, Marcelo Pecci, said that an airport in the eastern town of Pedro Juan Caballero on the border with Brazil had become an “epicenter” of organized crime due to corruption among aviation authorities.

Pecci added that aerial trafficking groups “continue and will continue to operate in these conditions, in this airport, and in whichever other airport in the country affected by this serious weakness that shouldn’t exist in matters of civilian aviation.”

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