Paraguay: drug czar steps down after deadly anti-cannabis op

Posted on June 23rd, 2016 by Bill Weinberg and tagged , , , .

Southern Cone Paraguay's top anti-drug official stepped down June 20, two days after a botched anti-cannabis operation left a three-year-old girl dead at the hands of his troops. Luis Rojas resigned as head of the National Anti-Drug Secretariat (SENAD), under apparent pressure from President Horacio Cartes. The deadly operation took place in Nueva Italia municipality of Central department, where SENAD troops searching for cannabis plantations apparently fired on a van—which proved to be carrying members of the Zanotti Cavazzoni family, owners of a local sugar plantation and mill. The girl's uncle was also wounded in the attack. The girl was the grand-daughter of Ulrico Zanotti Cavazzoni, local sugar oligarch and land-owner. One wonders if Rojas would have been forced to resign if it had just been a peasant's daughter who was killed.

Paraguay has seen escalating gunplay in recent months, in an apparent struggle by rival gangs for control of the underground cannabis trade. June 15 saw the commando-style assassination of a local businessman in the town of  Pedro Juan Caballero, on the Brazilian border and a key transfer point for cannabis and other contraband. The "border businessman" Jorge Rafaat Toumani was killed in a road ambush by a team of at least 10 gunmen—armed not only with assualt rifles but also a heavy machine-gun. This was apparently needed to penetrate Rafaat Toumani's personal armored vehicle. Another  five were injured in the attack. Nine suspects have been apprehended. Authorities say they suspect First Capital Command (PCC), the Brazilian crime network which is said to control much of the cannabis trade in Paraguay.

Paraguay is by far South America's largest cannabis producer, having surpassed Colombia over the past decade. But in vivid contrast to nearby Uruguay, the traditionally conservative landlocked country continues to pursue a policy of hardline intransigence. Rojas had been a particularly outspoken opponent of Uruguay's new legalization program.  But dissent is growing. On June 22, members of the opposition Paraguay Pyahurâ Party (PPP) held a protest march in Asunción, the capital, against the "anti-popular and anti-national" drug policies of President Cartes. (InSIght Crime, Prensa Latina, June 22; Ultima Hora,, June 20; Hoy, June 19; InSight Crime, Ultima Hora, June 16)

Cross-post to High Times


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