A country of 7 million people, Paraguay sits wedged between its neighbours Brazil, Argentina, and Bolivia – a country where the lingua franca is Guarani over Spanish and the population once lived under a decree where marrying your own race was once illegal. To lather on the icing of peculiarity – Paraguay lost nearly 70% of their male population after a David and Goliath type battle against its latterly mentioned neighbours with the omission of Bolivia and the addition of Uruguay.
Despite the past calamities, Paraguay is a nation firmly rooted into the bedrock of South America and boasts a wealth of natural resources alongside its now cosy relations with its fellow Latino compatriots. Economic growth is erratic to say the least and this contributes largely to the internal dissatisfaction in respect to children’s education and the lack of improvement in living conditions, especially for those outside Asuncion, the nation’s baby-faced capital.
With travel restrictions still in place, I have done my best to pick the brains of those living in Paraguay from the comfort of my own home. Speaking to many newfound friends from Reddit – the status quo reminds me of a European dynamic that existed in Italy before the second world war. The church has maintained an iron grip on power and a landowning class, making up 1% of the population control 75% of the agricultural land yet there is more to this ongoing strife.
The 21st century dynamic of this situation envelops narco-traffickers and the production of marijuana further halting an enormous bottleneck of progress in Paraguay.
When you think of green belt, also known more formally as marijuana producing nations – by cognitive bias or the entire series of Narcos, you think of Colombia, Mexico and maybe even Guatemala for the well-seasoned reefer historians among us. The US’ war on drugs as it has been colloquially named, never extended its heavy hand this far south.
Paraguay is the second largest producer in the world only second to Mexico. Around 6600 pounds per hectare with an average number of 7000 hectares according to Santi Carneri of El Pais.
That is roughly 13,000 full sized football pitches for those struggling to comprehend the number and you must consider that Paraguay is 4 times smaller than Mexico.
I hate to be sensationalist and understand that attitudes towards marijuana are rapidly changing but until the green stuff becomes legal, Paraguay will be in the vice grip of drug barons and corrupt politicians looking to make quick buck at the expense of the common folk; whose average salary barely reaches $10,000 a year.
The triple frontier as it is known internationally is the coordination of narco-traffic across the borders of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil. Journalists attempting the cover the region have been harassed, threatened and even paid with their life – back in 2014 Pablo Velasquez was shot 9 times, twice in this face by masked gunmen on his way back home.
In total 6 journalists have been mercilessly murdered in the country since the year 2000.
One redditor described the state of affairs as an ouroboros system – depicted historically as a snake devouring its own tail. Politicians ‘off the record’ are known to benefit from narco-traffic profits whilst the justice system turns a blind eye. Just last year did 75 inmates tunnel their way out of a prison in Pedro Juan Caballero, on the Brazil-Paraguay border, I am sure nobody knew a thing.
The issue is too big to ignore at this point and Paraguay, if holding true about their marijuana production, would benefit significantly from it’s legalisation; thus following in the footsteps of Uruguay who are reaping the tax rewards of their initiative.
Unlike Uruguay, Paraguay is still seen as significantly more undeveloped and there is still a long way to go towards legalisation hence the violence persists.
As explained, the ouroboros system is a visceral cycle and without significant press activity or a fully functioning justice system, Paraguay will evermore be cradling its achilles heel, squandering the untapped potential of its most hardworking and intelligent people.