Argentine police broke up a crystal methamphetamine trafficking ring and seized over $1 million-worth of the drug, suggesting that the country could be becoming a consumer of the meth as well as a transshipment point for the chemicals used to manufacture it.
On August 10, Argentine anti-narcotics police in the coastal city of Mar del Plata arrested four suspected drug traffickers and seized 1.2 kilos of crystal methamphetamine, or “ice,” with a street value of over $1 million. Those detained were a Mexican, a Colombian, and two Argentines. Two women were also arrested, believed to be partners of two of the suspects, reported La Nacion.
The discovery of such a large amount of crystal meth ready for sale reportedly surprised officials who had been expecting to break up a cocaine trafficking ring.
According to La Nacion, the crystal meth is sold on the local market in doses of 0.1 grams that can fetch anywhere between $150 and $220 depending on quality.
Ice is the most powerful form of crystal meth and gets its name from its crystalline·appearance. Its high purity level explains why it is typically sold on the street in such small quantities.
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Argentina is vital as a transshipment point for chemicals, particularly ephedrine, that are used in the production of methamphetamine by Mexican trafficking organizations. These groups used to be able to import ephedrine directly to Mexico, but a 2007 crackdown on the chemical forced them to shift imports to Argentina. In 2008, the LA Times described Argentina as a crucial part of the “ephedrine highway,” that carries the substance from Asia to Mexico. While Argentina has attempted to combat this by tightening regulations in recent years, it remains a key entry point for the chemical into Latin America thanks to the fact that ephedrine can legally be used in the country to produce cough and cold medicines.
Due to its growing role in the methamphetamine trade, Argentina has seen increased activity from Mexican cartels. A 2011 report from Proceso outlined how the leader of the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman spent time in the country from 2010-2011 and set up production and distribution points for synthetic drugs in the north. On the same day as the Mar del Plata seizure, Mario Segovia, one of the biggest precursor suppliers to Mexican gangs and the so-called “King of Ephedrine,” was sentenced to 14 years in Argentine prison along with a Sinaloa Cartel operative, Jesus Martinez Espinosa (see video below).
Colombian and Mexican gangs have long been present in Argentina thanks to its role as a transit point for Europe-bound cocaine. In addition, high-profile drug lords from both nations are reported to have spent time there, even using the country as a location for peace negotiations, as two now-captured rival bosses of the Oficina de Envigado reportedly did in the city of Rosario.
Though Argentina is a key transit point for meth precursor chemicals, there had been little evidence prior to this recent seizure that the country was becoming a market for the drug. Argentina is currently the second biggest market for cocaine in Latin America, constituting roughly 25 percent of total use in the region. It is also a major consumer of cheaper cocaine derivatives such as “paco,” a form of crack cocaine. The seizure in Mar del Plata suggests that the methamphetamine may be gaining popularity among Argentine users, alongside cocaine. If this is so, it could mean an increased presence of foreign trafficking organizations, particularly Mexican, who already have a stake in the precursor trade. Mexican-run production facilities could spread from the north of the country, where they are believed to already be present, as cartels aim to carve out a larger stake in the domestic market, as well as dictating precursor flows to their home country.