Argentina’s Booming Marijuana Trade Crippling Jails

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A province in northeast Argentina is running out of jail space after droves of marijuana trafficking arrests, illustrating how the South American nation continues to grow as both a transit hub and local drug market.

Federal judges in Argentina’s Misiones province have warned that its jails and federal prison are filled to capacity, forcing them to house detainees in police stations and barracks for the Gendarmerie. Criminal proceedings are also increasingly delayed due to a lack of jail space, Clarín reported on February 11.

The complications stem from Misiones’ booming marijuana trade. Authorities in the province seized 126 metric tons of marijuana in 2018, nearly 70 percent of the total amount of the drug seized throughout the country last year, Clarín reported separately.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Marijuana

In the Puerto Libertad municipality of Misiones alone, the Argentine Naval Prefecture seized 34 tons of marijuana in the first half of 2018, an increase of 221 percent compared to the same time during 2017.

Nationwide, authorities tallied 87 drug trafficking arrests every 24 hours, many of which were in the area, according to Clarín. 

Misiones is located in the so-called “Tri-Border” region — a drug smuggling and criminal hotspot where Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina meet. Misiones’ location on the Paraná River, which continues on to the capital Buenos Aires and the Atlantic Ocean, also makes it a key point for transporting marijuana shipments from neighboring Paraguay, South America’s largest marijuana producer

InSight Crime Analysis

The crippling of the penitentiary system in Misiones shows how this border province has turned into a strategic location for marijuana traffickers seeking to reach the country’s sizable urban markets in Buenos Aires and Rosario, which are also key transshipment points

Corrientes province — just to the south of Misiones and pinned on three sides by Paraguay, Brazil and Uruguay — has also seen a surge in marijuana trafficking. 

Indeed, in March 2017, authorities arrested the mayor, vice mayor and police chief in the northern city of Itatí along the Paraná River in a massive security operation. The mayor and vice mayor allegedly colluded with a local drug lord and were in charge of “coordinating part of the plot to move narcotics and intervening in favor of members of the association to ensure their impunity.” A formal member of Argentina’s Naval Prefecture was also recently arrested in connection to a 10-ton shipment of marijuana in the city of Ituzaingó in northeast Corrientes. 

SEE ALSO: Argentina News and Profile

Local dynamics in Misiones and Corrientes — home to four of Argentina’s five marijuana trafficking hotspots — illustrate the challenges that local institutions are facing in responding to the country’s marijuana trade. The industry also appears to be attracting one of South America’s most powerful organized crime groups, Brazil’s First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC).

In July 2018, police forces in Misiones thwarted an attempt by suspected PCC members to free another alleged member from one of the province’s jails. The PCC has aggressively expanded its operations across the region. With Argentine authorities already struggling to confront the marijuana trade, the addition of the PCC could further exhaust the country’s security institutions.

*This article was written with assistance from InSight Crime investigator Tristan Clavel

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