Cannabis in Paraguay is illegal, its possession decriminalized under 10g since 1988, but the country is one of the world’s largest cannabis producers, the second-largest producer in Latin America after Mexico. Paraguay is thus the main source of cannabis for Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile, and produces 5900 tons of cannabis per year according to a 2008 report.
This illegal mass production now seems to be at the root of the forest fires that have broken out in recent weeks in the country. Over 5,000 separate fires broke out on 1 October. While a long period of drought and dry weather has allowed the fires to spread almost unchecked, a local report indicates that armed groups may have started many of them to free up space for cannabis plantations.
Already in September, Guyra Paraguay, a non-governmental organization that monitors forest fires, said that they were all started on purpose, “for agricultural reasons or to grow marijuana.
On October 2, firefighters from Caazapá National Park directly accused cannabis traffickers of setting a fire there.
On October 13, the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development stated that armed men linked to cannabis cultivation in Caazapá National Park had prevented firefighters from stopping the fires in the area.
The same dynamic has been observed in previous years. In October 2019, a volunteer fire chief from the municipality of Villarrica, located near Caazapá, suggested that the fires could be due to the clearing of land for cannabis cultivation.
At least 2350 hectares of cannabis plantations would exist in the natural parks of Mbaracayú, San Rafael, Morombí, and Caazapá, which are all part of the Atlantic forest of Paraná.
As the coronavirus pandemic has exploded the demand for cannabis, the number of plantations will likely increase, especially in the north-eastern region of the country, which concentrates 93% of the cannabis plantations. In addition to fires, these areas have suffered serious environmental degradation in recent years.