Paraguay’s Weed Industry Caught Up in Police Corruption Scandal

Photo by Vortex Farmacy

For most Americans, or those who incredulously observe us from afar, the proliferation of secret tapes, corruption, bribery, extortion and threats of “you’re fired” have become an everyday occurrence.

So why not in other countries where police and political corruption also enjoy a prominent place in society?

Let’s take Paraguay, where a group of corrupt police officials was at the receiving end of a major bribery scheme involving the country’s huge network of weed cultivators and traffickers.

Marijuana producers in the main weed-growing region, Alto Paraná, had the polite custom of giving large sums of money as “welcome gifts” to the newly-hired police and anti-narcotics authorities assigned to work in the area.

The housewarming gifts were a way of ensuring that the growers’ operations would continue undisturbed, according to Paraguayan newspaper, ABC Color.

Through a series of audio and video recordings reviewed by ABC Color, the police chief in Alto Paraná, Marco Antonio Verdún, described a scheme in which officers were arguing about keeping their posts in this pot-producing and bribe-receiving region.

This was the first mention of an officer having to pay a bribe to keep his job.

Then, in other secret recordings, Verdún implicated himself as being the administrator of the “welcome gifts” on behalf of the marijuana producers.

Verdún spills the beans, on tape, that he was the one who handed over around $9,000 in welcoming gifts to each new police chief, chief of investigations and local anti-narcotics officers in Alto Paraná, per ABC Color.

He also admitted to keeping thousands for himself for all the good work he’d been doing for the weed growers.

When the scheme was uncovered, Paraguay’s top security officials chopped as many heads as possible among the police and others suspected of taking bribes.

Corruption is a persistent problem in Paraguay’s security forces, particularly among local police in rural areas where massive amounts of weed is grown along the Paraguay-Brazil border.

In addition to this scandal in Alto Paraná, the head of Paraguay’s National Police recently ordered the removal of police chiefs from other states when officers were arrested for trafficking 8.6 metric tons of weed and providing protection for shipments leaving the country, according ABC Color.

Second only to Mexico, Paraguay (the size of California with a population 6.6 million compared to Mexico’s 127 million) is one of the largest source countries of marijuana in the Western Hemisphere, according to the U.S. State Department.

Specialists say that weed grown in Paraguay is in great demand because of its high potency. Most of Paraguay’s weed is exported to Brazil and Argentina.

Cannabis consumption in Paraguay is among the lowest in the region, estimated at just one percent of the population compared to 10 percent in Latin America’s most stoned nation, Uruguay ,where it is legal.

Paraguayan law is actually lenient with pot smokers. Possession of less than 10 grams is not criminalized. There are few, if any, pot prisoners.

Growers, however, can face up to 20 years behind bars.

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