Prosecutors Alarmed Over Argentina’s Growing Drug Trade

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Judicial officials in Argentina are sounding the alarm over the spread of drug trafficking and organized crime in the country, a rare admission from authorities of the country’s growing role in nearly every aspect of the drug trade. 

In a new report (pdf) by Argentina’s Attorney General’s Office, federal and regional prosecutors expressed their growing concern over the proliferation of drug trafficking activity throughout the country.

Mario Sabas Herrera, Attorney General of the central city General Roca, declared, “The Argentine Republic lives with a criminal business that produces massive incomes: drug trafficking.” Sabas Herrera went on to warn,  “This phenomenon has been gradually penetrating our society…surprising by its speed, to the point that today it controls the lives of the inhabitants of many neighborhoods.”

Pablo Di Loreto, a federal prosecutor in the northern city of Posadas, found that  “seizures of numerous cocaine or coca base shipments during the past year from Paraguay” have been particularly alarming. The concern, in part, owes to the smuggling routes being used, which have traditionally been used for marijuana, not cocaine trafficking.

Loreto also highlighted the presence of “better organized criminal structures that divide labor and criminal tasks,” with different groups buying, transporting, preparing, and selling drugs. This complicates investigations due to the number of groups involved at each step in the drug trafficking chain, the report notes.

Federal prosecutor Juan Carlos Tesoriero also drew attention to a “notable increase” in cocaine trafficking in Posadas, which has resulted in “the multiplication of drug-sale points in cities and towns in [Argentina’s] interior.”

Likewise, Eduardo Villalba, an Attorney General in the northwest province of Salta, said a rise in drug-related crimes has been “notable” in comparison with previous years, and that micro-trafficking operations have rapidly increased. Salta is a key entry point into Argentina for cocaine shipments coming from Bolivia, according to the report.

Similarly, Enrique Senestrari, a federal prosecutor from Cordoba, referred to an increase in the number of “drug kitchens,” with another prosecutor also noting that drug production “has proliferated” in the province of Mendoza.

InSight Crime Analysis

The recognition by top judicial authorities of Argentina’s growing drug problem highlights the extent and seriousness of the issue — which some government officials have previously been reluctant to acknowledge or admit. Even Pope Francis — who is Argentine — has grown worried about the potential “Mexicanization” of Argentina, which has become an increasingly important drug consumer, transit, and even producer nation.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Argentina

It is no coincidence Argentina is experiencing growth in several different aspects of the drug trade at the same time; these trends are often linked and can in fact create a snow-ball effect. For example, the country’s growing role as a transit nation for international markets such as Europe has likely increased its own domestic demand for illicit drugs.

The growth of local drug markets has in turn led to an increased number of criminal groups dedicated to micro-trafficking, with the Monos in the city of Rosario serving as the most prominent example of this phenomenon. As a result, drug-related violence has risen as competing criminal groups battle for territorial control.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Microtrafficking

Foreign drug trafficking organizations have also moved into Argentina, which is seen by some as a safe haven compared to the security pressures applied to organized crime groups in Colombia or Mexico. The presence of these transnational criminal networks has expedited Argentina’s rising importance in the drug trade, and there is evidence groups such as Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel have contributed to growing corruption within the country’s police forces.

Despite the dire warning signs, until now government officials — either for lack of will or resources — have been slow to tackle these drug-related issues. The report by the Attorney General’s Office is a clarion call to action — but it remains to be seen if authorities will take the necessary steps to reverse course.

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