Paraguay is increasingly important for drug trafficking

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This week the important Paraguayan prosecutor Marcelo Pecci Albertini was killed in Colombia while he was on his honeymoon, which dealt with organized crime and drug trafficking. The murder was heavily commented on in international newspapers, and shows among other things how Paraguay has now become a country of primary importance for criminal groups in South America.

Pecci was 46 years old, of Italian origin (he had double passport) and had become quite well known after he led, in February, together with other drug prosecutors the largest operation against drug traffickers in the history of Paraguay, showing how the country has a crucial role for the world trade in cocaine. His investigations had hit the transnational drug cartels which have bases in Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Paraguay and make deals with Italian criminal organizations, with the mafia of Eastern Europe and that of the Netherlands.

Pecci and his wife Claudia Aguilera, a journalist, were married on 30 April. The couple were on their last day of vacation on the island of Barú and were on the beach of their hotel, the Decameron hotel. Two armed men arrived aboard a jet ski. They approached Pecci and fired two shots, in the face and in the back. Then they hit a hotel security officer who was trying to intervene. The two men always went away on the jet ski. Claudia Aguilera, who is pregnant, told local newspapers: “They arrived suddenly and opened fire, hitting Marcelo in the face and back, a hotel security officer tried to intervene but they shot him too. “.

Some images of the two hitmen taken by the hotel cameras were released: an identikit of one of them was also provided. Paraguayan police investigators arrived in Cartagena to support Colombian ones. The Colombian police also have promised a reward of 2 billion pesos (about 460 thousand euros) to those who will provide useful information for the identification of the hit men.

Pecci did not have an escort or at least did not have one in Colombia, where he was on vacation, even though he was quite famous in various South American countries. The big drug operation he had been involved with in recent months had begun on February 22 and was called A Ultranza PY. It was the conclusion of an investigation that began after the seizure of 16 tons of cocaine in Europe, including 11 in the port of Antwerp, Belgium, and another five tons in Paraguay. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Europol also participated in the investigation.

The identikit and the mugshot released by the Colombian authorities (Ansa)

Paraguay has assumed a notable centrality in South American drug trafficking for less than a decade, that is, since many of the drug shipment activities have moved from Brazilian to Paraguayan ports. The main criminal organization involved is the so-called Clan Infrán, which according to investigations managed a large traffic involving various countries in South America.

In the course of Operation A Ultranza PY were discovered, according to the investigative journalism site InSight Crime, 40 logistical bases used by drug traffickers across the country; 43 arrest warrants were also carried out and over $ 100 million seized.

The Paraguayan authorities explained that the drug traffickers sent the cocaine from Bolivia by plane. The clandestine flights landed on secret runways of the Cerro Cabrera nature reserve, in the department of Upper Paraguay. From there, after several passages, the cocaine was placed in containers and left along the Paraná River, crossing Argentina and Uruguay. Then, aboard other ships, he crossed the Atlantic Ocean to reach European and, in some cases, even African markets. The Paraguayan judiciary explained during a press conference that the money raised by the traffickers was then laundered into real estate as well as into companies and sporting events.

To lead the Paraguayan organization would be, according to the judiciary, Sebastián Marset Cabrera, 30, former footballer of Deportivo Capiatá, then a singer and above all Bossthat is, “head” of an organization of drug traffickers that manages the trafficking of cocaine to Europe thanks to agreements with European crime and with the Bolivian, Colombian, Brazilian and Argentine drug groups.

Marset Cabrera was arrested in 2013 for being involved in the seizure of 450 kilos of marijuana found aboard a plane piloted by Juan Domingo Viveros Cartes, uncle of the then president of Paraguay, Horacio Cartes. After being released, Marset Cabrera lived in Bolivia and Brazil. In 2021 he was arrested in Dubai where he spent a period under house arrest for holding a false passport.

The head of the logistics network of the group at the center of the investigation, according to what was discovered by the investigations, was Miguel Ángel Insfrán Galeano who coordinated the transport, storage and dispatch of cocaine to Europe. Beside him was his brother José Insfrán, who according to the investigations would have links with the Colombian church Centro Mundial de Avivamiento. Both are fugitives.

The Insfran Clan (ABC-Paraguay)

The Paraguayan investigation revealed connections between the leaders of the narcos and also important politicians of the country.

José Insfrán himself had been a candidate for the post of governor of the department of Canindeyú, in the eastern part of the country. There are many intertwining between narcos and Paraguayan politicians. According to the investigations, the now retired army colonel Masi Job Von Zastrow, whose daughter is the companion of a well-known senator in Asunción, was managing the air transport of drugs between Bolivia and Paraguay.

The recycling branch was allegedly led by the entrepreneur Alberto Koubè, who owns important companies that have contracts with the state administration, and who was arrested in February. A minister, Joaquin Roa, resigned after the investigation found that Koubè had sold him a $ 4 million yacht for a nominal price.

What Marcelo Pecci Albertini and his colleagues had denounced was therefore a heavy intertwining between Paraguayan elites and drug traffickers. The judiciary had acted after the Paraguayan government received strong pressure from the US administration to intervene to counter the huge flow of cocaine leaving the country. Furthermore, the investigations may have been favored by the heavy clash in progress between the current president Mario Abdo Benítez and the former president Horacio Cartes for control of the Partido Colorado, in power for many years and now in a crisis of consensus.

In the past, according to reports InSight Crimeboth sides used their political influence to make revelations about their adversaries’ links to illicit activities in an attempt to gain political advantage.

Given the level of corruption reported by the investigation and the collusion between drug traffickers and Paraguayan political power, it seems surprising that Pecci, the most exposed anti-drug magistrate, was without an escort. Especially since for months in Paraguay there have been murders committed by hitmen among various members of rival criminal groups: only in January of this year 27 were committed.

The latest striking case was the murder in February of Marcos Rojas Mora, killed while he was attending a concert not far from Asunción, the capital. Rojas Mora was a well-known drug trafficker. Two other narcos were also injured with him, Luis Bogado Quevedo and Marcelo Monteggia, the first wanted for drug trafficking in Brazil, the second for murder in Bolivia. A girl also died during the shooting, model Cristina Vita Aranda.

The war between gangs of drug traffickers is taking place above all in the Amambay area, near the border with Brazil, and some Brazilian armed criminal groups are protagonists who are trying to oust Paraguayan organizations in the logistical management of drug transport to Europe . Among these is the Primeiro Comando da Capital: the group, one of the strongest in South America, was formed in the prison of Taubaté, in Sao Paulo, Brazil and has about 6 thousand affiliates. It is famous in Brazil for various violent acts, which have led to the deaths of dozens of people.