Rotela Clan is a criminal group run by the Rotela family in Paraguay. It was originally specialized in the microtrafficking of crack in poorer neighborhoods of Asunción and Concepción, but has since expanded into a national organization, controlling much of the drug trafficking inside and outside prisons.
The origins of the clan date back to 2007, when Armando Javier Rotela and his brother, Óscar, began recruiting young people in Tobatí, near the capital, Asunción, to join their microtrafficking activities. The clan specialized in selling crack in poorer neighborhoods of Asunción, especially those along the Paraguay river.
According to Blas Martínez, Paraguay’s former national prisons director, the group rapidly also gained a foothold as drug traffickers inside prisons, especially the prison of Concepción.
In 2014, Paraguay’s National Anti-Drug Secretariat (Secretaría Nacional Antidrogas – SENAD) dismantled a crack production laboratory belonging to Rotela Clan in Asunción, finding almost five tons of the drug. The same operation found a booklet that detailed drug distribution points across the country, showing the national reach Armando Javier Rotela had achieved by then.
Currently, after focusing heavily on recruitment inside prisons, it is believed the gang could have over 1,000 members, largely outnumbering any other criminal group in Paraguay, including its main rivals, Brazil’s First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC).
However, one weakness is that its members’ loyalty may not be particularly strong. According to Joaquín González, another former national director of prisons, most of their members are either temporary detainees, waiting to be charged, or are addicts themselves who exchange their loyalty in exchange for crack.
This problem may be similar outside prison. In Asunción and Cordillera, much of Rotela Clan’s membership is made up of microtraffickers and the group does not appear to have ambitions to expand into other criminal economies.
The Rotela Clan’s leadership is hierarchical with the cousins, Armando Javier Rotela and Óscar Rotela Ayala, making most of the core decisions.
In 2014, Óscar Rotela was arrested on charges of homicide and drug trafficking in San Lorenzo, a neighborhood of Asunción. His cousin and the clan’s leader, Armando Javier Rotela, was first captured in 2011, during a police raid in the neighborhood of Bañado Sur in Asunción. But he escaped a year later from the prison of Misiones, alongside nine other members of the group.
Rotela was recaptured in 2016 and jailed, but instead of becoming weakened, he reconverted the Rotela Clan to draw their power base from inside prisons and recruiting enough new members to consolidate a national presence.
According to Antonio Bazán, the director of the prison in Concepción, told InSight Crime that Armando Javier Rotels has managed to maintain his leadership from inside prison due to always being highly respectful with guards and other prison staff. His recruitment strategy has also allegedly focused on those inmates coming from the worst socio-economic conditions.
After the clashes with the PCC, Javier Rotela allegedly orchestrated a riot in the prison of Tacumbú against PCC members after the San Pedro prison in which 10 Rotela Clan members were murdered.
In March 2020, almost four years after his arrest, Javier Rotela was condemned to 27 years in jail for criminal association and drug trafficking.
Historically, the Rotela Clan maintained its power base in the capital of Asunción, especially in the neighborhoods of Bañado Norte, Bañado Sur and Ricardo Brugada. It has now expanded into the departments of Cordillera, Central and Concepción.
After the recapturing of Javier Rotela in 2016, the Rotela Clan began a rapid ascent to power within the country’s prisons, authorities told InSight Crime. This has seen them consolidate a national presence, especially in Pedro Juan Cabellero and Misiones.
But it was only after the massacre of 10 members of the Rotela Clan at the San Pedro prison in 2019 that the government really began to recognize the criminal group as a nationwide threat. “Before San Pedro, it was believed the clan was only in the prisons of Tacumbú, Antigua Emboscada and Misiones, but after that, we identified them in most of the most violent prisons in the country,” Blas Martínez, Paraguay’s former national director of prisons, told InSight Crime.
In October 2019, prison officials stated that the Rotela Clan had expanded into at least 15 of Paraguay’s 18 prisons.
Allies and Enemies
While the Rotela Clan is not known to have any allies in particular, their status as a Paraguayan group has helped with the recruitment of members, especially in prisons.
This has fueled their vicious feud with Brazil’s PCC inside Paraguay’s prisons. Once allies and even planning operations together, the two groups have become bitter rivals seeking to control drug trafficking inside and outside prisons. This has led to outbreaks of violence more often associated with the PCC’s fights with rivals such as the Red Command (Comando Vermelho – CV) at home in Brazil.
In June 2019, 10 members of the Rotela Clan were brutally murdered by the PCC in the prison of San Pedro, allegedly as retribution for a PCC member having been killed in Tacumbú prison and the reported perpetrator having been transferred to San Pedro.
The two criminal groups have been at war since then.
Clashes between the Rotela Clan and the PCC have become a constant menace within Paraguay’s overpopulated and corrupt prison system. After the massacre at San Pedro prison in August 2019, the government declared an emergency and sent in the army to take control of prisons.
This additional layer of scrutiny could have hindered Rotela Clan operations but outbreaks of violence have continued. In January 2020, clashes with the PCC left at least one dead in the Misiones penitentiary.
The balance of power between the Rotela Clan and the PCC will continue to play out, with uncertain results. On the one hand, the Rotela Clan is a homegrown Paraguayan criminal group, which has shown remarkable adaptability, surviving the capture of top personnel and expanding throughout the country’s prison system.
On the other hand, its enemy, the PCC is the dominant criminal group in Brazil, is a highly experienced prison gang and far outstrips their Paraguayan rivals in terms of overall manpower, financing and weaponry. For now, these resources are overwhelmingly concentrated in Brazil and the Rotela Clan has more men inside Paraguay, allowing it to hold firm.