Authorities in Argentina say increased vigilance and enforcement has caused a spike in the use of so-called “mules” to transport drugs to the country, but there are other possible explanations.
According to figures from Argentina’s Ministry of Security, reported by Clarín, the number of drug mules arrested in the South American country increased by 175 percent in 2017, in comparison with 2016.
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Authorities say the rise in the use of drug mules is the result of a series of counternarcotics policies implemented by the Mauricio Macri administration, which resulted in record high seizures of 15 tons of cocaine in 2017 – up from the 8.5 tons seized in 2016.
The barriers imposed to the transport of drugs forced criminal groups to resort to more rudimentary ways to move cocaine and other drugs into the country, authorities claimed. The use of drug mules had decreased 64 percent between 2012 and 2013.
InSight Crime Analysis
While it is true that there is increasing official control of land routes and of illegal planes passing through the country’s northern frontier — especially due to the expansion of Argentina’s radar capabilities and the deployment of more military personnel to the area — there are a number of other factors that could explain the revival of the use of mules.
First, criminal organizations in the region are fragmenting. Smaller groups have neither the infrastructure nor the resources to make overland crossings possible, and therefore resort to more rudimentary methods such as the use of mules.
Secondly, some organizations producing drugs in other places may be increasing their use of Argentina as a transit hub. The resulting increase in this use of Argentina might help explain the uptick in seizures of all kinds, including mules.
Thirdly, there may be an uptick in criminal organizations specializing in the types of drugs for which mules are most useful. This includes heroin and synthetic drugs that move in smaller quantities.
In general, seizures are a poor way to measure progress or lack thereof, since so many variables determine their outcome.
What’s more, there is no shortage of men and women willing to take the many risks associated with carrying up to 120 capsules of between 10 and 17 grams of cocaine, each for payments of around $1,000, particularly given the economic downturn facing most economies in the region.