Paraguayan notes in Ñanduti style - page 3

K. Sapozhnikov
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1998.In case of any reproductions, reference to the site www.Tiwy.com is a must

To be in Paraguay and not to visit the town of Ciudad del Este at the border with Brasil, would be unforgivable.

- It used to be called Puerto Stroessner, - a familiar to me diplomat told me with authority. -This is the main black market center of the continent. There are no authentic things there, you will be forced to buy falsification of the famous trade marks. For twenty dollars you can provide “rollex” watches to all your family, for fifty – movie cameras, and having paid two or three hundred you can get a “toyota”, stolen, naturally in Brazilian or Argentine territory. And be alert, the town has a bad reputation. And what a crowd is there: criminal elements, Chinese and Korean mafia, smugglers, drug dealers and even Arab terrorists who have their “hide-outs” there. That is the place where you can enjoy exotics of criminal world. Alexandra Marinina should go there for a couple of days...

It takes the bus about five hours to bring you to the “capital of illicit dealers”. Quite often the schedule is not kept because of the usual for the Paraguayan roads phenomenon – another herd of “meat and milk animals” took advantage of absence of the cattleman, who decided to have a drink of cane vodka – caña, and blocked the highway.

Behind the glass you can see endless line of small villages, the inhabitants of which earn their living by agricultural work and serving “those on the road”. During frequent stops the bus is occupied by hasty vendors, who offer “regional” food, drinks, souvenir trifles. Mainly teenagers carry on this roadside business: the unemployment is high in the country, and it is necessary to help parents. The sun is at the peak, it is hot, and I, following the example of my neighbours, take a plastic cup with “terere” - refrigerated Paraguayan tea – mate. A few sips, and the result is apparent: it has become easier to breathe, the heat seemed to weaken, and the shirt is not getting wet from sweat so fast...

Having come to Ciudad del Este and jostling in the overexcited, suspiciously distrustful, impudently cynical, crazy selling and buying crowd, where the formula “commodity – money – commodity” reigns in all its horrible-greedy shamelessness, I understood how right was one local journalist, the one who rakes aside the filth, when he called this town a “stinking armpit of South America”. That journalist has died in an attempt to expose a criminal organisation, laundering drug-dollars in “financial triangle” at the edge of borders of Paraguay, Argentine and Brazil. However, there are many deaths here. Among those, who die, there are not only journalists, but also traders, money changers, careless tourists, secret services agents, trying to expose secret operations of drug dealers, terrorists and counterfeiters. The corpses are getting more and more in number, the machine gun bursts are getting more and more habitual.

Despite the concentrated attack of vendors, I managed to escape temptation by falsifications. Especial persistence was demonstrated by a seller of watches, who followed me everywhere, patiently waiting for me at the entrance of “McDonalds”, made turns and “loops of the death” and fired one argument after another in an attempt to convince me to pay up:

- Here is an excellent watch, señor, gringo, trouble-free, water proof and even with guarantee. Titanium case, Swiss mechanism. I'll let you have it for forty dollars only. In any shop they will charge you four hundred for something like this. You have never made so profitable a buy in your life. I sell it cheaper because my brother-in-law works at the customs, well, you understand, we must help our relatives... I can see, you took fancy of this watch, take a decision, do not grudge. Well, so be it, I'll let you have it for thirty! Thirty, señor! But you will never regret if you are robbed. Four hundred and thirty – there is a big difference...

- Thank you, I have a watch and I'm happy with it.

- Then take it for resale. Only fifteen bucks. In any country they will give you four hundred for it. Take four pieces from me and you will not only pay back for air fare to Paraguay, but you'll have a good profit. There won't be another lucky chance like this...

Bridge of friendship, hanging above deep Parana, joins Ciudad del Este with a Brazilian town Foz de Iguazu. Tonnes of goods, carried by vehicles and human backs, are transported without customs and control (mainly to the direction of Brazil and Argentine) through this bridge from morning till evening. There are a lot of young faces in this live conveyor. The more boxes and packages you carry, the more you get paid. “Sacoleiros”* - that is the name of these ants - poor devils.

Some goods come to Paraguay from the countries of South-East Asia, Japan and Taiwan (with which Asuncion maintains full-fledged diplomatic relations) legally, and some portion (the bigger one) – through the smugglers channels. A lot of underground “factories and plants”, producing counterfeit goods: from TV sets and calculators to CDs and tobacco goods, are functioning in the zone of Paraguay – Brazilian border. According to the available information there are at least 100 landing strips to get smuggled goods at this area. In the borderline towns there are about 60 banks and other financial institutions, the majority of which, according to the police, are simply laundering illegal money.

They've been speaking about establishing order for a long time. Recently the Americans paid attention to the “armpit”, thinking that it was the place for the biggest operation centre of the South American drug mafia, as well as terrorist “hide-outs”, linked with Islamic fundamentalists in Iran and Lebanon. The key to solution of the problem, according to the Americans, in “docking” of national legislation, coordination of special services activities in establishing control over the local and alien population, multiplied financial institutions and air space, as well as in enhancement of effectiveness of customs and frontier services.

They speak about realistic perspectives of fast and decisive establishing of order in this area of Paraguay with great caution. The existing situation satisfies the “godfathers” of massive criminal organisations that started to emerge even at the times of Stroessner. Such organisations have their own plans for integration and expansion. The fight against them will be lengthy and unlikely bloodless.

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