Paraguay Anti-Marijuana Operations Barely Dent Production in Amambay

By Henry Shuldiner  |  Apr 10th, 2023
Asuncion Paraguay
Asuncion Paraguay. Image by Anonimo

Authorities have destroyed mammoth amounts of cannabis on the border of Paraguay and Brazil in the latest in a series of eradication operations against the seemingly limitless supply of marijuana produced in Paraguay.

Paraguay’s National Anti-Drug Secretariat (Secretaría Nacional Antidrogas – SENAD) and Brazil’s Federal Police (Polícia Federal) have jointly taken over a thousand tons of marijuana and cannabis seed out of circulation in raids across the eastern department of Amambay since March 26, according to a SENAD press release published April 3. Most marijuana produced in Amambay is moved to Brazil, where it can sell for as much as $150 per kilogram.

The busts came in the latest phase of “Operation New Alliance” (Operativo Nueva Alianza), a bilateral eradication operation between Paraguayan and Brazilian security forces, principally in Amambay.

Operation New Alliance has just completed its 36th iteration, and previous phases have regularly eradicated hundreds of tons of marijuana plants each. In 2022, authorities eradicated 1,821 hectares of marijuana fields with the potential to produce 5,400 tons of marijuana, SENAD reported.

According to the United Nations 2022 World Drug Report, Paraguay remains one of the largest producers of marijuana in the Americas, and the rural department of Amambay has long been the country’s marijuana production hub. Nearly 70% of the remote department is farmland and there is a distinct lack of state presence, according to Carlos Peris, a political scientist and drug trafficking expert at the Catholic University of Asunción.

Amambay’s porous borders with Brazil have made its capital city of Pedro Juan Caballero, which abuts the Brazilian town of Punta Porá, a key transit point for drugs headed to its eastern neighbor.

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Poverty, unsuccessful crop substitution programs, inadequate state presence, and police corruption have contributed to the ongoing and unabated production of marijuana in Amambay, despite the apparently successful eradication operations of Paraguay and Brazilian authorities.

Amambay’s rural population and Indigenous communities suffer from a lack of opportunities outside small-scale farming, with few other means to make a living, according to Peris. “Traditional farmers and Indigenous people do not always have access to mechanized agriculture, so there are very few products they can sell,” said Peris. “Among those few products they can sell, very few have any sales value [apart from marijuana].”

To add to this dynamic, crop substitution programs have failed, doing little to dissuade farmers from continuing to cultivate marijuana. A kilogram of marijuana could earn farmers nearly thirty times that of a kilo of sesame or manioc, two other crops commonly grown in the country.

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Isolated from the rest of the country by mountains and distance, there is a sparse presence of security forces in Amamaby, and a lack of surveillance along the border has allowed major Brazilian criminal groups to take root in Amambay in recent years.

The First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC) and the Red Command (Comando Vermelho – CV), long-term wholesale buyers of marijuana, could now be moving up the supply chain to control marijuana production. Whether producing themselves or purchasing wholesale, sophisticated criminal groups such as the PCC and CV can pay farmers handsomely for what they grow.

The few authorities that do maintain a presence in Amambay have been detrimental to successful marijuana eradication, as police corruption is common in the department, Peris said.

Farmers often pay authorities hefty bribes to ensure their marijuana is not burned during eradication efforts. Paraguayan investigative outlet Hina found that farmers in Amambay had to pay almost 15% of their profits in kickbacks to police.

Bribes have become so costly that some farmers “will tell you that it has ceased to be a profitable business,” said Peris. While some farmers have decided to exit the marijuana production business, the Indigenous population, who often have larger areas of land for production and are content making less money, has begun to fill the void they left behind, according to Peris.

According to farmers Peris interviewed, for police and drug traffickers, “it is simply easier to oppress, abuse, and even kill Indigenous people.” In the future, a larger shift in marijuana production in Amambay from small-scale farmers to the Indigenous population is quite possible, he said.