“In Paraguay, There Are Sectors Of The Government Party Involved In The Drug Business”

A beach of white sand and turquoise waters on the Island of Barú, in the Colombian Caribbean, became a tragic scene on May 10. Neither the presence of tourists nor the time of day – it was 10:30 in the morning – prevented two armed men from Paraguayan prosecutor Marcelo Pecci was shot deadwho was with his wife, journalist Claudia Aguilera, enjoying their honeymoon.

Pecci, 45, was the prosecutor specializing in the fight against organized crimedrug trafficking, money laundering and financing of terrorism in Paraguay, and one of the most respected prosecutors in the country.

Last week, Colombia’s attorney general, Francisco Barbosa, assured that they have “more than 120 pieces of evidence and material evidence” that will help them not only to find the perpetrators of the crime, but also those who gave the order to assassinate Pecci. On the same day of the murder, the Colombian government offered a reward of around 475,000 euros in exchange for information that would help find the whereabouts of the two assassins.

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It was particularly striking that the Paraguayan official traveled to Colombia without escorts, but his wife assured the press that he had not received any threats and that he felt safe.

In Paraguay, unlike other Latin American countries, “the issue of security is not taken very seriously and one can enter the office of an important position without much requirement,” according to lawyer Jorge Rolón Luna, who tells elDiario.es. former director of the Citizen Security and Coexistence Observatory of the Ministry of the Interior.



In his opinion, the fact that the anti-mafia prosecutor traveled to Colombia without security “is a tremendous failure of the Paraguayan Intelligence services and the Public Ministry for not having a basic security protocol.”

“The decision of the prosecutor to go to Colombia and the information that was given about the trip facilitated the work of the assassins, although it is true that in Paraguay the security of high-profile officials and risky jobs such as Pecci is not taken seriously either. says Luna.

The Colombian investigation

The main hypothesis considered by the Colombian police, which works together with authorities from Paraguay and the United States, is that Pecci was murdered due to his work as a prosecutor, although all avenues of investigation are open. Among other complex cases, the prosecutor was in charge of “A Ultranza PY”, considered the largest operation against organized crime and money laundering in the history of Paraguay.

The operation uncovered a criminal network that transported cocaine from the country in containers of agricultural products to different ports in Europe. While investigations began in late 2019, the most visible deployment began in February and assets valued at more than €95 million have been seized since then. There are also 24 people charged and eight arrested for alleged links to drug trafficking, including businessmen and politicians from the ruling Colorado Party (conservative), as is the case of Juan Carlos Ozorio, who resigned as deputy.

Prosecutor Pecci had also taken on the investigation of the shooting that occurred in January at a music festival in the city of San Bernardino, where several armed men shot and killed two people, including the influencer Cristina “Vita” Aranda– and injured five others. In reality, the attack was a settling of accounts between two drug gangs and the objective was to finish off precisely one of the wounded.

Other investigations in which Pecci recently participated were for the murder of businessman Mauricio Schwartzman, who was shot dead in front of his house in September of last year, as well as the crime of Haylee Acevedo, daughter of the governor of the Amambay border department. , which occurred in October on the eve of the municipal elections.

Intimidate those who investigate

Luna considers, however, that the crime of the anti-drug prosecutor “is more of a warning, a threat in the future for those who want to investigate these issues in depth, to tell them that they will not even be able to travel in peace.” The lawyer and teacher recalls that, although there have been murders of policemen, mayors and councilors in Paraguay, this is the first time that a prosecutor has been killed in the exercise of his functions.



On the other hand, Luna indicates, the Public Ministry is an institution “very discredited in Paraguay, due to issues of corruption, complicity with power and a double standard when it comes to acting, because certain actors fall with all the weight of the law and nothing happens to others”. The expert gives the example of the operation “A Ultranza PY”, where “some important actors have not even been charged despite the fact that it was clear that they had links with these illicit businesses”, as is the case of the Colorado deputy Erico Galeano.

“No one believes in the independence and autonomy of the prosecution, which is also closely linked to former President Horacio Cartes (2013-2018), in turn closely linked to shady businesses ranging from currency evasion and money laundering to drug trafficking, ”he adds.

A transit country for cocaine

Contract killings are not something new in Paraguay, especially in border areas, but in recent years the cases have increased throughout the geographical area, explains the researcher, who in the absence of official statistics has compiled data based on journalistic sources.

According to those figures, the department of Amambay (northeast) is the most violent in the country, accumulating 29 attacks perpetrated by hit men during the first four months of this year, almost one every four days. They are followed by the departments of Concepción (13 attacks), Central (9) and Canindeyú (8). The data shows that the attacks have increased compared to the same period of the previous year and that the phenomenon of hired killers is spreading beyond the traditional border such as Amambay.

“There is a link between the significant increase in violence by criminal organizations, which is expressed especially in hired assassins, and the growing importance of cocaine trafficking in the country as a link in the international drug trafficking chain,” says Luna, and that in Paraguay is evidenced by the large quantity of drugs seized both in the territory itself and in Europe. In February 2021, 23 tons of cocaine were seized in Germany and Belgium from Paraguay, the largest quantity of this drug found in Europe to date, amounting to several billion euros.

Paraguay’s role on the world map of drug trafficking has always been linked to marijuana – the first plantations appeared in the 1960s – and in fact it is the largest producer of cannabis in South America and one of the largest distributors in the world. But that traditional business “has been transformed by cocaine,” a drug that generates more profit than marijuana and has gained significant relevance in recent years.

“Paraguay’s geographic location greatly influences this new role, since it is the gateway for Andean cocaine (from Peru, Bolivia, and Colombia) to the Brazilian market, the world’s second largest consumer of this substance,” explains Luna. In addition, the Paraguayan river routes are also used to move cocaine to the Atlantic, destined for West Africa and Europe.

All this business has generated new actors, outside the traditional ones on the border with Brazil. “There are new actors in the metropolitan region and in the surroundings of Asunción -the Paraguayan capital-, which involve Brazilian organizations and also European mafia actors with whom the entry of these substances into Europe is agreed,” adds the lawyer.

The State “is an accomplice”

The proliferation of drug trafficking in Paraguay would not have been possible “without the complicity of the State and private business,” says the expert, because in his opinion, the pillars of this business, such as cultivation and production, the transport of merchandise , drug dealing and money laundering, “only They function on the basis of macrocrime networks in which state actors participate.”



Luna also recalls that drug trafficking began in Paraguay during the military dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner, who ruled the country between 1954 and 1989 based on harsh police repression, death squads and martial law, which caused a profound inequality in country that is palpable today. Both generals and other important actors of the regime, he maintains, started this illicit business in the country and were therefore “the ones who began to make drug trafficking what it is today.” “Today we suffer the metastasis of what began in the dictatorship,” he criticizes.

Currently, says Luna, “there are vast sectors of the government party involved in the business, especially in border areas,” and in fact in recent years there have been several murders of mayors and councilors in those areas. “There are also politicians in national spheres linked to these businesses, as well as opposition actors, but to a lesser extent,” he points out.

The Minister of the Interior, Federico González, recently admitted to the local press that Paraguay does not have sufficient economic resources to deal with organized crime, although it does have “will and firm decision.” However, more than a budget problem, Luna considers, it is that Paraguayan politics and security forces “are infected by the drug trafficking virus” and the country should “purify” them.



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