Quoted area is from Good
One shop in particular, I’m told, is a clearinghouse for drugs. Armed with the proper introduction, in I went. In lieu of a traditional greeting, the owner simply asks me what I’m looking for, and how much of it I’ll need. “And, yes, we have cocaine,” he adds as an afterthought…
He quizzes me, asking where I live in the city, if I have the cash on me, and if I’ll need assistance getting it back home from Ciudad del Este. Satisfied with my answers, he reaches under the counter to produce a narrow tan brick of densely compressed Paraguayan Brown (marijuana), barely softer than a rock. It looks like AstroTurf.
He asks me again how much I’m looking for and I stutter, blurting out that 50 kilos should do it for now. He chuckles. “We usually sell more than that, 200 or so, but we can do 50. One second.”
He leaves the room to make a phone call, and a moment later returns: “It’ll be $20 U.S. a kilo,” he says. “And are you sure you don’t need any help getting that to Argentina?”
This is Cuidad del Este in Paraguay. Conveniently, just across the bridge from Brazil and a few minutes from Argentina.
For Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, the black market is legal and there’s is no taxation on any of the goods. People buy what they need in Paraguay and then go into Brazil or Argentina with it. For example, Argentina’s electronics are over-priced and taxed to an unbelievable amount. If you want to bring purchased electronics across the border, it needs to look used as if it wasn’t bought in Paraguay, otherwise it’ll just be taxed to the same amount as if you bought it in Argentina.
Widely open, people are buying dozens if not thousands of electronics from Xbox360’s, laptops, and TV’s and illegally bringing them into other countries to sell. For this to happen there are many underground passages that lead into Brazil and Argentina. Another way is a boat that drops off most items on an island that’s owned by Paraguay and at night picked up to bring to the Brazil side. Again, at 6pm, shifts change between security with a 15-minute gap and during that time everything is rushed over into Brazil. You’d think that perhaps they would stop this from happening but the reality is Paraguay lives off of this and maybe if it wasn’t for this – the country would collapse. People are paid off in Brazil and Argentina as well. It’s a big business. Could Paraguay survive without the black market?
It doesn’t stop at electronics though. They have cologne, toys, drugs, guns, and whatever else your heart desires and easily accessible to find. How convenient, you can buy a Barbie doll, a Matchbox car, an AK47, and a kilo of cocaine within a few minutes. Want it delivered? No problem, the store will smuggle that in to your address for a few extra dollars.
The city itself is a slum. Not very appealing at all. The electrical wires by the apartments is a fire just waiting to happen. The layout of the city didn’t make much sense to me (I don’t think anything is suppose to make sense here). High profile malls across the street from broken down apartment buildings. The malls and streets are filled with security men holding shotguns and semi-automatics though surprisingly most are not even cops and merely hired security to look tough near stores.
The hassling of people reminded me a lot of China and SE Asia. Ten year old children hassling you to buy socks that even when you say no, they still won’t go away.
Needless to say, if you’re going to visit Iguazu Falls anyway – you may want to consider visiting Ciudad del Este for it’s unbeatable shopping prices. It’s only a thirty minute bus ride from Argentina’s Iguazu Falls. I don’t suggest going back to Brazil or Argentina with any grenades though.