By Seth Robbins
More than two dozen armed men raided a ranch in Paraguay, held its employees hostage, and took off with 350 head of cattle, in an unusually bold example of an often overlooked but widespread crime in Latin America.
The assailants, who were carrying rifles and wore balaclavas, tied up a ranch manager and several employees near Horqueta in the central Concepcion province for two days as they rounded up and carefully selected the cattle. They took only cattle that had been vaccinated, herding them onto 11 large trucks, reported ABC. The Brazilian owner of the ranch was not present during the assault.
According to Monumental 1080 AM, the criminals insisted they were members of the Paraguayan People's Army (EPP) -- a guerrilla group active in the area -- but the local police chief said it was more likely they were cattle rustlers.
This is the second major case of cattle rustling near Horqueta, a city surrounded by large agricultural holdings, in six months, according to national police from the anti-cattle theft unit. In October 2013, 200 head of cattle were stolen from a nearby ranch, each worth close to $700.
InSight Crime Analysis
While there are few figures available to indicate its prevalence or profits, cattle rustling is widespread in Latin America, affecting rural communities as far north as Mexico and as far south as Argentina. Colombia and Bolivia have both reported incidences of cattle theft worth millions of dollars in recent years.
Small gangs are often behind the crime, selling the cattle for quick slaughter or trafficking them across borders where they can fetch higher prices. However, major transnational smuggling groups have also been known to take part in it, and cattle rustling can be a stepping-stone to other forms of criminal activity, including drug trafficking, as was the case with the two Honduran brothers who head the Cachiros drug gang.
Cattle ranching itself has also been found to have links to organized crime, with ranching expanding in the same areas where drugs are often smuggled in some countries, and ranchers accused of a host of illegal activities from land theft to money laundering.