Story

Paraguay's "War on Weed"

August 01, 2016|

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Special forces from Paraguay’s counter-narcotics agency SENAD patrol the lawless border with Brazil, where much of the country’s cannabis is grown, in Vietnam-era Huey helicopters. Image by Simeon Tegel. Paraguay, 2016.

Special forces from Paraguay’s counter-narcotics agency SENAD patrol the lawless border with Brazil, where much of the country’s cannabis is grown, in Vietnam-era Huey helicopters. Image by Simeon Tegel. Paraguay, 2016.

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This clandestine cannabis plantation, in a private forest reserve on a huge ranch, covered around seven acres. The soldiers gave it the once over before getting to work destroying the plants. Image by Simeon Tegel. Paraguay, 2016.

This clandestine cannabis plantation, in a private forest reserve on a huge ranch, covered around seven acres. The soldiers gave it the once-over before getting to work destroying the plants. Image by Simeon Tegel. Paraguay, 2016.

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Paraguay is easily South America’s largest cannabis producer, with most of its product smuggled across the open border with Brazil. The United Nations once estimated that Paraguay accounts for 15% of global production of the soft drug. Image by Simeon Tegel. Paraguay, 2016.

Paraguay is easily South America’s largest cannabis producer, with most of its product smuggled across the open border with Brazil. The United Nations has estimated that Paraguay accounts for 15 percent of global production of the soft drug. Image by Simeon Tegel. Paraguay, 2016.

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Harvested plants drying out in a narco-camp hidden in the forest near the plantation. Image by Simeon Tegel. Paraguay, 2016.

Harvested plants drying out in a narco-camp hidden in the forest near the plantation. Image by Simeon Tegel. Paraguay, 2016.

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SENAD special forces don’t mess about. All plants are swiftly chopped down with a single machete swipe. If they have already budded, then they are also burned. Image by Simeon Tegel. Paraguay, 2016.

SENAD special forces don’t mess around. All plants are swiftly chopped down with a single machete swipe. If they have already budded, then they are also burned. Image by Simeon Tegel. Paraguay, 2016.

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Setting fire to the dried plants. Image by Simeon Tegel. Paraguay, 2016.

SENAD special forces set fire to the dried plants. Image by Simeon Tegel. Paraguay, 2016.

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Contrary to popular belief, standing a few feet from a ton or two of blazing cannabis will not get you high. However, the smoke will make you cough and your eyes water while the heat will force you back. Image by Simeon Tegel. Paraguay, 2016.

Contrary to popular belief, standing a few feet from a ton or two of blazing cannabis will not get you high. However, the smoke will make you cough and your eyes water while the heat will force you back. Image by Simeon Tegel. Paraguay, 2016.

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Captain Saprisa, the leader of this elite SENAD unit, leaves a blazing narco-camp behind him. Image by Simeon Tegel. Paraguay, 2016.

Captain Saprisa, the leader of this elite SENAD unit, leaves a blazing narco-camp behind him. Image by Simeon Tegel. Paraguay, 2016.

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SENAD’s annual $10 million budget is stretched so thin that these special forces are taking provisions from the abandoned narco-camp back with them to feed themselves. Image by Simeon Tegel. Paraguay, 2016.

SENAD’s annual $10 million budget is stretched so thin that these special forces are taking provisions from the abandoned narco-camp back with them to feed themselves. Image by Simeon Tegel. Paraguay, 2016.

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A couple of hours earlier, this field was packed with thousands of cannabis plants. This is what it looked like after SENAD’s handiwork, as the troops prepare to leave. Image by Simeon Tegel. Paraguay, 2016.

A couple of hours earlier, this field was packed with thousands of cannabis plants. This is how the field looked after SENAD’s handiwork, as the troops prepared to leave. Image by Simeon Tegel. Paraguay, 2016.

Paraguay is South America’s largest producer of cannabis. Despite drug law reform in other parts of the Western Hemisphere, from Canada to Chile, the conservative administration of President Horacio Cartes continues to wage an old-school “war on weed,” sending out elite counter-narcotics special forces to destroy vast quantities of the soft drug. The policy of prohibition and repression has been blamed for fueling corruption and human rights abuses while failing to stem the flow of cannabis to Brazil and other markets around the region.