Paraguay faces various challenges to its efforts to reduce narcotics trafficking and production. The country’s proximity to major source countries for cocaine, as well as institutional challenges within its law enforcement agencies and courts, continue to impede counternarcotics efforts.
Paraguay produces one of the largest marijuana crops in the Western Hemisphere, largely for export to Brazil and Argentina. It is also a transit country for Andean cocaine, most of which is destined for Paraguay’s neighbors or to Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Drug traffickers exploit the landlocked country’s porous borders, extensive internal waterways, and law enforcement and judicial institutions. Arms trafficking, money laundering, counterfeiting, and other illegal activities linked to narcotics trafficking and other forms of transnational crime are prevalent, with the proceeds contributing to corruption. These activities increasingly involve international criminal organizations operating along the Paraguay-Brazil border.
Despite these challenges, the Government of Paraguay expanded its efforts in 2014 to disrupt the activities of drug traffickers through interdiction, eradication, and demand reduction efforts. Paraguay’s primary counternarcotics agency, the National Anti-Drug Secretariat (SENAD), with approximately 230 agents, leads these efforts along with the Paraguayan National Police (PNP) and the Customs Administration. These agencies, along with the Attorney General’s Office, the Anti-Money Laundering Secretariat (SEPRELAD), and the Supreme Court, all welcome cooperation with the United States in fighting drug trafficking.
B. Drug Control Accomplishments, Policies, and Trends
1. Institutional Development
In 2014, SEPRELAD continued to implement the National Plan for Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Terrorist Finance (AML/CTF). Both SENAD and the PNP made progress in strengthening their financial crimes investigation and canine units. Since 2011, SENAD has served as the country coordinator for a multi-agency and multi-country program led by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to address illicit trafficking and promote demand reduction and treatment initiatives. SENAD’s budget is expected to increase to $12.3 million in 2015, from $11.8 million in 2014 and $9.7 million in 2013.
Paraguay is a party to the Inter-American Conventions Against Corruption and Against Terrorism. Paraguay is also a signatory to the Organization of American States Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission Hemispheric Drug Strategy and to the 1992 Inter-American Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters.
U.S. and Paraguayan law enforcement authorities cooperate in extradition matters pursuant to a 2001 extradition treaty. The United States and Paraguay extended the 1987 bilateral letter of agreement providing counternarcotics assistance in 2004 and have amended it annually through 2014.
2. Supply Reduction
The sum total of SENAD and PNP seizures of marijuana and other cannabis products increased significantly in 2014 compared to 2013, but cannabis eradication and seizures of cocaine and precursor chemicals decreased. The 896 metric tons (MT) of marijuana seized in 2014 surpassed the 2013 figure of 461 MT. In addition, 2014 seizures of 5.8MT of cannabis products (seeds and wax) were above the 2013 figure of 4.6 MT. The 2,145 hectares (ha) of cannabis eradicated in 2014 was slightly less than the 2013 figure of 2,295 ha. In addition, precursor chemical seizures decreased to 1.6 MT. Seizures of cocaine amounted to 2.9 MT, less than the 2013 figure of 3.8 MT. There were 361 drug-related arrests in 2014 (567 in 2013); one airplane seized (two in 2013); and 864 firearms seized (45 in 2013).
SENAD and PNP achieved multiple noteworthy enforcement successes and drug seizures during the year. In March, SENAD, working with the Brazilian Federal Police, seized 178 kilograms (kg) of cocaine, 308 kg of marijuana, two vehicles, two guns, and arrested two persons. In April, SENAD conducted simultaneous operations which resulted in the seizure of 309 kg of cocaine, the seizure of 22 vehicles, and the arrest of one person. In the lead-up to the World Cup in April, SENAD dismantled a laboratory in Ciudad del Este that produced Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and ecstasy intended for Brazil. In August, PNP officers working with customs officials conducted the third largest cocaine seizure in the history of Paraguay, seizing 847 kg of cocaine that had been camouflaged in a shipment of rice to be sent to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The cocaine was connected to Brazilian drug lord Jorge Rafat Toumani, a fugitive who was sentenced by a Brazilian court to 47 years in prison for drug trafficking and money laundering.
Paraguay is one of the largest marijuana producers in the hemisphere, with cultivation taking place primarily in northeastern departments near the Brazilian border. Various methods are used to smuggle narcotics through Paraguay to regional and international markets, including containerized cargo, cargo trucks, passenger buses, small airplanes, and human couriers. Towns along the Brazilian border such as Pedro Juan Caballero, Salto del Guairá, and Ciudad del Este are known transit centers for narcotics, arms, and other contraband. Vehicular, riverine, and pedestrian traffic routinely cross the border unchecked by authorities on either side. Due to a limited law enforcement presence and lack of radar coverage, traffickers use large farms in the northwestern Chaco region along the Bolivian border as bases of operation for aerial cocaine shipments originating in Bolivia.
3. Drug Abuse Awareness, Demand Reduction, and Treatment
SENAD sponsored 103 workshops to promote awareness on the dangers of illegal drugs that reached 3,764 students, parents, and teachers in 57 different educational institutions. The agency distributed 2,400 informational pamphlets and 345 DVDs to students, teachers and counselors, and conducted 12 drug abuse awareness radio broadcasts.
The Ministry of Health’s National Addiction Control Center, located in Asuncion, is the only public drug treatment facility in Paraguay. It offers in-patient, out-patient, and walk-in assistance to all patients seeking treatment regardless of gender or age. However, the Center’s 30-bed capacity for inpatient treatment is insufficient to meet the country’s needs. The Center also conducts drug addiction prevention programs and training for health professionals throughout the country. There is only one private rehabilitation center in Paraguay.
The Government of Paraguay neither encourages nor facilitates illegal activity associated with drug trafficking, and no senior government official was implicated in such activity in 2014. There were cases of lower level officials, including mayors, police chiefs and police officers implicated in such activities. Members of Congress were accused of involvement in drug trafficking. Widespread corruption, impunity, and a lack of resources in the law enforcement and judicial systems often prevented the effective prosecution of narcotics producers and traffickers.
C. National Goals, Bilateral Cooperation, and U.S. Policy Initiatives
The Administration of President Horacio Cartes has placed a high priority on counternarcotics efforts, as demonstrated by increased seizures and the appointment of qualified leadership in SENAD. Paraguay’s Congress echoed this support by increasing funding for SENAD in 2014 by 21.3 percent over 2013 and again in 2015 by 2.7 percent over 2014. The United States works closely with the Government of Paraguay to disrupt drug trafficking organizations and to strengthen legal and regulatory frameworks in a joint effort to combat drug trafficking and associated crimes, such as money laundering and arms trafficking. U.S. operational support, including support for joint investigations, resulted in increased numbers of drug seizures, arrests, and the presentation of cases for prosecution.
The Government of Paraguay continued to advance its counternarcotics capacity as evidenced by large drug seizures, budget increases and collaboration with the Brazilian Federal Police on select narcotics cases. Nevertheless, enhancing Paraguayan interagency coordination, improving the judicial system’s ability to prosecute narcotics cases quickly and effectively, and strengthening law enforcement efforts, would help to further deter narcotics producers and traffickers.
The United States encourages Paraguay to continue to institute measures to address corruption across all levels of government and to develop a comprehensive approach to combating the production and trafficking of precursor chemicals, including chemicals that could be used to produce synthetic drugs. The Government of Paraguay should consider taking measures to increase its capacity to treat and rehabilitate drug users. The United States also encourages Paraguay to strengthen its asset forfeiture law and to implement the law effectively.