A man consuming "paco" in Argentina

A recent report on Argentina's drug market highlights rising violence, addiction, and perceptions of insecurity in areas of the country affected by drug trafficking, while also illustrating some important regional differences in terms of how these activities are affecting local communities.

Argentine news outlet La Voz del Interior recently published an analysis of a report on drug trafficking and addiction (pdf) released last year by the Catholic University of Argentina. The article in La Voz elaborated on the university's report using information derived from sources in the security forces and investigative agencies, as well as academic and journalistic articles.

According to La Voz, both transnational and local drug trafficking have flourished in Argentina's northwestern provinces. Small, loosely organized groups known as "family clans" tend to dominate the regional drug trade, often bringing in cocaine paste from neighboring Bolivia for final processing. Much of the finished product makes its way south to the country's major urban centers, but a significant portion remains in the area to be sold locally. The growth of the local drug market has likely contributed to traffickers' ability to corrupt local officials, but so far the northwest provinces have not seen significant increases in violence related to the drug trade.

Argentina's northeastern provinces share a border with Paraguay, the top cannabis-producing country in South America. La Voz reported that criminal groups in this region are often composed of Argentines, Paraguayans and Brazilians who primarily engage in the marijuana trade. In addition to drug trafficking, these organizations also participate in a range of other criminal activities including human trafficking, theft, money laundering and smuggling of goods like weapons and cars. La Voz reported that, as in Argentina's northwestern provinces, corruption is prevalent in the northeast, but violence remains at relatively low levels.

 Map of Argentina's regional drug dynamics, by La Voz del Interior

One area that has seen an increase in violence is Mendoza province in Western Argentina. This region has traditionally served as a transit point for drugs crossing the border into Chile, and has seen a local market for drugs emerge in the past few years. La Voz links the increase in local drug consumption and microtrafficking to an increase in urban violence in Mendoza.

The article in La Voz also describes the centrally located province of Córdoba as a "key junction" for the drug trafficking routes crossing Argentina. According to La Voz, there is a "significant lack of control" over the chemical industry in Córdoba, which makes it an ideal location to set up cocaine production labs. Local authorities have warned that apparent increases in murders and kidnappings in Córdoba could be linked to the drug trade, and that corruption and impunity also remain major problems.

The cities of Rosario and Santa Fe in Santa Fe province have become known as epicenters of increasing violence and corruption associated with Argentina's burgeoning domestic drug trade. Rosario marks the southern terminus of the infamous Ruta 34 -- a highway that snakes its way south from the Bolivian border and is often used to ship large quantities of drugs to Argentina's urban centers. Rosario lies less than 200 miles from Buenos Aires, the country's biggest drug market, and it also has numerous points of access to the Rio de la Plata, making it ideal for shipping drugs by river.

Within Rosario's underworld, criminal group the Monos has emerged as the best-organized and most violent organization. However, La Voz reports that other criminal groups are able to sustain themselves with the roughly $140 million per year generated by the local drug trade, according to police estimates. 

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Argentina

Drug-related violence has also increased in the city of Buenos Aires and the surrounding province. According to La Voz, Argentine, Peruvian, and Paraguayan criminals dominate the local market, often bringing in cocaine paste from Bolivia and Peru for local processing and distribution. Marijuana and synthetic "designer" drugs also play a prominent role in funding local criminal organizations, as does "paco" -- a drug described by VICE News as "a cheap and enormously addictive…variation of crack made from cocaine residue, baking soda, and sometimes even crushed glass and rat poison." Criminal groups -- suspected of ties to corrupt politicians and police officers -- reportedly employ sophisticated, sometimes mobile, laboratories for processing drugs, and hire foreign "specialists" to assist with production.

InSight Crime Analysis

Argentina has long been a target market for foreign drug trafficking organizations, and has even served as a hideout for some high-level criminal operators. But recent reports like the one in La Voz point to an evolution of the domestic criminal landscape. Increased domestic drug consumption has driven the development of local drug markets, which in turn have spawned increasingly sophisticated and often violent criminal organizations. Some of these groups have begun to forge links with other powerful criminals throughout Latin America, indicating that the country's importance in the regional drug business could continue to increase.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Elites and Organized Crime

While it is important to note that Argentina is not well suited to becoming a major drug-producing nation, it has already established itself as a major consumption and transshipment country. Recently-inaugurated president Mauricio Macri has promised to confront organized crime and the drug trade head-on with a series of tough new measures, but some of the proposals, like shooting down suspected drug planes, have already generated a backlash from his political opponents.

And as InSight Crime has previously pointed out, widespread government corruption in Argentina poses one of the most significant obstacles to combating criminal groups, especially considering the growing power and profits of many Argentine crime networks. 

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