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Overseas Security Advisory Council
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Paraguay 2020 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Asunción. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Paraguay. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s Paraguay country page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Travel Advisory

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Paraguay at Level 1, indicating travelers should exercise normal precautions. Exercise increased caution in Amambay, Alto Paraná, Canindeyu, San Pedro, and Concepción departments due to crime. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime Threats

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Asunción as being a HIGH-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Criminal activity offers an attractive alternative to youth who lack job-related skills and legitimate employment opportunities. Crime is generally non-violent, but the common use of edged weapons and firearms during muggings and street crime creates the possibility of serious harm. Recent statistics and high-profile incidents indicate a growing willingness by criminals to use firearms. Criminals target those they believe to be wealthy, including expatriates. Robbery, auto theft, burglary, and occasional home invasion crime are a problem in urban and rural areas alike. Street crime, including pickpocketing and mugging, is prevalent on public buses and in urban areas. Armed robbers riding motorcycles (motochorros) approach their victims during daylight hours and at night. Suspects have wounded or killed victims who attempted to flee or refused to turn over valuables. The Paraguayan National Police (PNP) acknowledge that many crimes go unreported due to lack of confidence in the judicial process. Review OSAC’s report, All That You Should Leave Behind.

Thieves have posed as service people (e.g. mail carriers, reporters, water meter readers, electrical technicians, delivery persons, maintenance personnel) to gain access to homes. They sometimes wear uniforms and travel in vans or automobiles with markings that make the vehicle appear official. Do not let such people inside your home unless you have contacted the service provider directly to verify the appointment.

There have been instances of bank employees working with organized criminal groups to identify and rob individuals after they withdraw large amounts of cash. In addition, organized criminal groups have targeted armored bank trucks in transit or while conducting money pickups at banks.

Significant Recent Criminal Incidents:

September 2019: Armed suspects wearing Anti-drug Secretariat (SENAD) uniforms attacked an unusually lightly guarded prison transport convoy and liberated a notorious narcotrafficking leader. The attack occurred ten minutes from downtown Asunción, as the prisoner was in transport back to the detention center from a court hearing. The suspects killed one police officer and injured two others.

September 2019: Armed suspects attacked an armored truck transporting currency in the city of Capiata. The suspects fled with approximately 500 million Guarani (approximately $73,500) after killing a security guard.

The National Police of Paraguay (PNP) continue to report a higher level of crime, including property crimes and assaults, in downtown Asunción. Most crimes committed in downtown Asunción occur at night. The Chacarita area, located along the river, is a known high-crime area, which local police often refrain from entering.

Paraguay has porous borders, particularly along the eastern Tri-Border Area (TBA) with Brazil and Argentina, through which criminal organizations easily traffic drugs, people, contraband, and weapons. The population centers of the TBA include Ciudad del Este (Paraguay), Puerto Iguazú (Argentina), and Foz do Iguaçu (Brazil). Visitors to the TBA should remain especially vigilant. In 2019, authorities attributed increased violence along the Paraguay-Brazil border between Pedro Juan Caballero and Salto de Guairá to the presence of the Brazilian organized crime gang First Capital Command (PCC).

The Embassy requires employees to report travel to the departments of Alto Paraná, Amambay, Canindeyú, San Pedro, and Concepción, due to high crime levels.

Review OSAC’s reports, Hotels: The Inns and Outs and Considerations for Hotel Security.

Cybersecurity Issues

Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices, Satellite Phones: Critical or Contraband?,The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud and Taking Credit.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Most urban streets consist of cobblestones over dirt. Some streets in Asunción and other large cities are paved. However, these streets often flood during heavy rains, making them impassable. Potholes appear suddenly, and often remain unrepaired for months. Nearly all rural roads are unpaved and can be impassable during the rainy season (November-April). Road signs indicating hazards are lacking in many areas. Avoid driving or traveling at night on highways outside urban areas due to the number of vehicles without proper lights.

Defensive driving is a requirement, as traffic is extremely congested and unpredictable. Paraguayan drivers only need minimal skills to obtain a driver's license, and driver’s education prior to licensing is uncommon. Drivers routinely ignore traffic regulations, and many drive without insurance coverage. Many traffic lights are inoperable or difficult to see, and a large number of intersections have no stop signs at all, making right-of-way unclear and passage dangerous.

Intercity highway maintenance is not equal to U.S. standards. The privately maintained toll road between Caaguazú and Ciudad del Este and the routes between Asunción and both Encarnación and Pedro Juan Caballero are generally in good condition. The Trans-Chaco route is in fair condition except for the portion between Mariscal Estigarribia and the Bolivian border, which is unpaved and at times impassable.

Paraguay has experienced a marked increase in the use of motorcycles. Paraguayans can obtain motorcycles cheaply and often with no safety training. Motorcycles pass on both sides of vehicles, often in a very dangerous manner and sometimes on sidewalks. Due in large part to a lack of enforcement of traffic and safety regulations, most traffic deaths occur in accidents involving motorcycles. U.S. citizens have been injured and killed in traffic accidents throughout Paraguay. The Touring and Automobile Club provides some roadside assistance to its members.

Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.

Public Transportation Conditions

Public transportation is readily available for urban and intercity travel, but safety is a major concern. Buses vary in maintenance conditions and may not meet U.S. safety standards. Public bus accidents occur. Many buses pass through high crime areas and are susceptible to robbery.

Taxi, Uber, and MUV services are available in most cities throughout Paraguay. Mobile rideshare services are also available in the capital area. No passenger train service exists. Bicycle travel may not be safe because of traffic and other road hazards. The level of public and private driver training and safety awareness does not reach minimum U.S. standards.

Review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Asunción as being a MEDIUM-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Since 2008, persons claiming to be part of the Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP) – an internal criminal group ostensibly dedicated to a socialist revolution in Paraguay – have been active in the departments of Concepción and northern San Pedro. The EPP is a relatively small group, but often has local support. EPP activity consists largely of isolated attacks against remote police and army posts, or against ranchers and peasants accused of collaborating with Paraguayan security services. In 2019, authorities attributed extortions, kidnappings, and murders in northern San Pedro and southern Concepción to the EPP.

In April 2019, Armed Peasant Association (ACA, an EPP offshoot) members temporarily held seven hostages in Concepción department. The ACA burned two pickup trucks, two tractors, and a horse cart. Before fleeing, the members railed against the production of genetically modified soybeans and corn.

In July 2019, EPP members held 17 workers hostage at a farm located in Amambay department. The EPP group waited for the farm’s administrator to arrive, murdering him as soon as he stepped out of his car. The majority of the EPP group allegedly included indigenous individuals from nearby areas. 

In October 2019, a bomb located in the back of a pickup truck exploded as it was driving through a rural road in Concepción department. The driver and the other three accompanying persons escaped unhurt. ACA members claimed responsibility for the explosion.

In 2019, the Government of Paraguay continued to cooperate with the U.S. on counterterrorism matters. The U.S. Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance program, International Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, and the International Law Enforcement Academy in El Salvador all have contributed to building Paraguay’s law enforcement counterterrorism capacity. Paraguay continues to face challenges of ineffective immigration, customs, and law enforcement controls along its porous borders, particularly along the TBA. Illicit activities in the TBA remained potential funding sources for terrorist organizations, most notably Hizb’allah.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Asunción as being a MEDIUM-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Paraguay is a constitutional democracy with a developing economy. International observers recognized general and municipal elections in 2013, 2015, and 2018 as free and fair. The next major election will be municipal elections in late 2020.

Civil Unrest

Public demonstrations are common. Land invasions, marches, and organized protests occur. There are political protests, demonstrations, and roadblocks by civil society groups, including peasant organizations, students, unions, and government employees. Demonstrations are typically peaceful and coordinated with authorities. However, there have been incidents of violence.

Demonstrations typically occur in the downtown area near Paraguayan government buildings and near the Paraguayan presidential residence, situated directly across the street from the U.S. Embassy. In Asunción, protestors generally gather in downtown public squares and parks. Outside of the capital, protestors’ most common tactic is to congregate on major roadways to block traffic and disrupt normal traffic flow to Asunción or Ciudad del Este.

Throughout 2019, demonstrations in Asunción and other population centers focused mainly on corrupt public officials and impunity. Rural farmers also came to Asunción to protest a lack of jobs, land, and housing.

Avoid locations where crowds have gathered to protest. Upon encountering a roadblock, avoid going through it and either wait for the roadblock to end or find an alternate route. Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

Discrimination, coupled with a lack of access to employment, education, health care, shelter, and sufficient land, hinders the ability of indigenous persons to progress economically while maintaining their cultural identity. Insufficient police and judicial protections from encroachments on indigenous lands often results in conflict between indigenous communities and large landowners in rural areas, which at times has led to violence.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Flooding is common. Paraguay’s rivers suffer from toxic dumping, as tanneries release mercury and chromium into rivers and streams. Inadequate means for waste disposal poses health risks for urban residents.

Economic Concerns

Protection of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) is an ongoing concern. Concerns remain about inadequate protection against unfair commercial use of proprietary test or other data generated to obtain marketing approval for agrochemical or pharmaceutical products and the shortcomings in Paraguay’s patent regime.

The U.S. and Paraguay signed an IPR Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in 2015, under which Paraguay committed to take specific steps to improve its IPR protection and enforcement environment. Additionally, the MOU created a bilateral partnership, in which the U.S. supports Paraguay’s efforts to strengthen the legal protection and enforcement of IPR. As a result of the MOU and the commitments Paraguay assumed under the MOU, the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) removed Paraguay from the 2015 Special 301 Watch List pursuant to an Out-of-Cycle Review.

However, Ciudad del Este, located in the TBA, has appeared on either the USTR’s Notorious Markets List or Special 301 Report for over 15 years. Regional organized crime groups are reportedly responsible for much of the counterfeit and copyright-infringing goods sold in Ciudad del Este. The border crossing and city have been the focus of U.S. and international attention as a hub for the distribution of counterfeit and pirated products in the TBA region and beyond. With weak border controls, there is extensive corruption and money-laundering activity in Paraguay, especially in the TBA.

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government generally does not implement the law effectively. Officials engage frequently in corrupt practices with impunity. Corruption in all branches and at all levels of government remain widespread, with investigative journalists and NGOs reporting on hundreds of cases of embezzlement, tax evasion, illicit enrichment, breach of public confidence, falsifying documents, and criminal association. Criminal cases typically spend several years in the courts. Under a law that prohibits court cases from lasting longer than four years, politicians and influential individuals convicted in lower courts routinely avoid punishment by filing appeals and motions until reaching the statute of limitation or by successfully requesting the removal or suspension of judges and prosecutors working on their cases. Although indictments and convictions for corruption of low- and mid-level public officials occur more frequently, high-ranking public officials enjoy a high degree of impunity. In addition, politicization and corruption are pervasive throughout the judicial branch, particularly in the lower courts and regional offices, hampering the institution’s effectiveness and undermining public trust.

Personal Identity Concerns

Femicide remains a serious problem. Domestic violence is widespread, and thousands of women received treatment for injuries sustained in domestic altercations. In many instances, victims asked prosecutors to drop cases against their attackers due to fear of reprisal, allowing the crimes to go unpunished. Rape continues to be a significant and pervasive problem, with many rapes going unreported.  Review the State Department’s webpage on security for female travelers.

There are no legal restrictions on same-sex sexual relations or the organization of LGBTI+ events in Paraguay. NGOs have reported police harassment and discrimination against LGBTI+ persons. According to press and NGO reporting, during 2019, police officers beat, robbed, and implicated transgender individuals as suspects in serious crimes, including drug trafficking and armed robbery. In October, a court handed down a conviction for the 2017 murder of a transgender person, marking the first conviction in the country for a crime targeting a transgender victim. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers.

Review OSAC’s report, Freedom to Practice, and the State Department’s webpage on security for faith-based travelers.

Paraguayan law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, and the provision of state services, and the government seeks to enforce these prohibitions. Nonetheless, access to buildings, pedestrian paths, and transportation is extremely difficult for persons with disabilities, as authorities rarely enforce mandated accessibility requirements. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.

Drug-related Crimes

The departments of Alto Paraná, Amambay, Canindeyú, San Pedro, and Concepción continue to suffer from violence associated with narcotic trafficking. Paraguay is a transit country for cocaine, and the hemisphere’s second-largest producer of marijuana. Narcotics traffickers use violence to settle matters between rival groups; members of the Brazilian organized crime gang PCC operate in Pedro Juan Caballero (Amambay), Salto de Guairá (Canindeyú), and Ciudad del Este (Alto Paraná).

The Department of Amambay is the most violent area of the country based on number of homicides. The vast majority of the homicides committed in Amambay are drug-related.

Kidnapping Threat

There have been no U.S. citizens reported kidnapped since 2011.

Virtual kidnappings occur in Paraguay. Virtual kidnapping schemes typically involve an individual or criminal organization who contact a victim via telephone and demand payment for the return of a “kidnapped” family member or friend. While no actual kidnapping has taken place, the callers often use co-conspirators to convince their victims of the legitimacy of the threat. Most schemes use various techniques to instill a sense of fear, panic, and urgency to force the victim into making a hasty decision. In recent years, there has been an increase in virtual kidnapping reports.

In August 2017, the EPP claimed responsibility for the 2015 kidnapping of Mennonite farmer Abraham Fehr in San Pedro Department. Despite the farmer’s family paying the $500,000 ransom in November 2017, his captors did not release him. In January 2018, the PNP, acting on clues left by alleged EPP elements, found Fehr’s remains in a mass grave in the northern province of San Pedro Department.

As of December 1, 2019, authorities believe the Mariscal Lopez Army (EML, an EPP offshoot) continues to hold one Paraguayan citizen hostage, who EML kidnapped in 2016.

Local experts suggest that most kidnappings go unreported. Rather, family members of the victims manage them independently. Review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics.

Police Response

The emergency line in Paraguay is 911. The PNP suffers from a serious, ongoing lack of resources and training. Although the 911 emergency response system is operational, police response times vary and investigations rarely result in successful apprehension. There have been credible reports that police have collaborated with criminal elements. Due to low pay and lack of disciplinary measures, corruption remains endemic within PNP ranks. The U.S. government continues to assist the PNP and the Interior Ministry with equipment and training, but progress is slow.

The PNP serves as the police force for the entire country, though military elements work alongside the PNP in EPP-affected areas, under the Joint Task Force (FTC) command structure. The PNP has various specialized units including K9, explosives disposal, and special operations. In the Asunción metropolitan area, call +595 (21) 445-858 for local police headquarters. Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.

If police demand a bribe during a traffic stop or other detention the, visitors should refuse to pay.

Medical Emergencies

For medical emergencies in Asunción, call +595 (21) 204-800. Adequate medical facilities, prescription and over-the-counter medications, supplies, and services are available in Asunción. Elsewhere, these are limited or may not exist. Medical care in public hospitals, especially outside of Asunción, is generally below U.S. minimum standards of care. Hospital and clinic facilities are typically substandard. Doctors and nurses typically do not possess minimum levels of experience and training. A shortage of medical staff often leaves clinics operating with unqualified personnel or insufficiently staffed. For medical assistance, refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance webpage.

The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Department’s webpage on insurance overseas.

Dengue fever and chikungunya (Chik-v) are viral diseases transmitted by mosquitoes year-round. In 2019, there were more than 11,000 confirmed cases in Paraguay resulting in nine deaths. The General Directorate of Health Surveillance noted that most of these cases were from two departments: Central and Asunción. Symptoms can include fever, rash, severe headache, joint pain, and muscle or bone pain. There is no specific treatment for either; vaccines are still in the developmental phase.

Paraguayan health officials have also confirmed Zika virus cases in Paraguay, though monitoring has not been sufficient. The Zika virus is a mosquito-borne illness communicable from a pregnant woman to her fetus. Among other effects, there have been reports of a serious birth defect of the brain called microcephaly and other poor pregnancy outcomes in babies with mothers infected by Zika virus while pregnant.

Due to the presence of yellow fever in parts of Paraguay, the CDC recommends that visitors obtain the yellow fever vaccination. Rabies and diarrheal diseases are also present. The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Paraguay.

Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, Traveling with Medication, I’m Drinking What in My Water?, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad

OSAC Country Council Information

Paraguay has a Country Council that meets in Asunción. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Latin America Team with any questions or to join.

U.S. Embassy Contact Information

1776 Mariscal Lopez Avenue, Asunción

Switchboard: +595 (21) 213-715

After-hours Emergency: +(595)(21) 229-581

Website: https://py.usembassy.gov

Helpful Information

Before you travel, consider the following resources:

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