Argentine agents dismantle drug trafficking ring

The dismantling of an Argentine-Paraguayan drug trafficking network that smuggled marijuana and cocaine for the Buenos Aires market highlights Paraguay's importance as a transit point and producer in the regional drug trade.

Federal police agents arrested 12 people, both Argentines and Paraguayans, seizing 50 kilos of cocaine and 380 of marijuana on September 11, according to a Security Ministry press release.

The operation was the result of a three-year investigation into the gang, which operated in Villa 21-24, the largest slum on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. Investigators found that the group smuggled marijuana from Paraguay in burlap flour sacks and then stored them in a bakery that was used as a front, La Nacion newspaper reported.  

Authorities also seized 1,500 small packages of “paco,” a cheap form of crack-cocaine popular in Argentina, along with weapons and $150,000.

The government heralded the operation as having dealt a significant blow to one of the largest groups selling narcotics in the country’s capital.

InSight Crime Analysis

The bust highlights Paraguay's importance in the regional drug trade. It is South America's largest producer of marijuana, accounting for some 15 percent of world supply, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Paraguay's anti-narcotics agency the SENAD estimated in their 2011 report that a kilo of marijuana can be sold for $1,000 in Argentina.

It is not clear whether the seized cocaine also came from Paraguay. This would not be surprising, though, with Paraguay a vital transit point for the drug, favored by traffickers thanks to its strategic location, loose rule of law, and high levels of corruption.

Argentina is Latin America’s second largest domestic market for cocaine after Brazil, accounting for 25 percent of the region's users, based on UNODC figures. The population of drug users in Buenos Aires alone is estimated to have doubled from around 27,000 in 2007.