Death threats issued to journalists in Argentina by a drug gang in Mendoza follow an intimidation tactic used by major cartels throughout the region, indicating the methods of local groups may be increasing in intensity as the drug trade continues to take deeper root in the southern cone nation.
Argentine newspaper El Sol recently published an interactive report detailing the structure and history of a drug gang known as “Yaqui’s Little Angels,” which operates in Godoy Cruz, in the greater metropolitan area of the west Argentine city of Mendoza.
Following the report, area police received notice that the leader of the group, Sandra Yaquelina Vargas, alias “Yaqui,” had issued orders to the teenage assassins (the “Angels”) under her leadership to kill the journalists responsible for the information, reported La Nacion. The journalists were subsequently placed under police protection.
Yaqui’s Little Angels is, according to the report, a small “sicario” network of 15 to 20 year olds working for an operation run by Yaqui and her family. This narco-clan provides the youth with arms and finances to operate. The group — which first came to the attention of authorities in 2012 — is reported to have violently expanded operations from its initial base, battling rivals for territory and taking over properties to use as drug sales points, mainly for cocaine.
The Angels are brutal in their methods, thought responsible for the deaths of a 10-year-old boy and a young woman, whose body was later found with her head in a bag, her hands tied and bullet holes in her back, reported La Nacion.
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The use of death threats to silence journalists is a tactic common to major drug cartels such as the Zetas, whose brutal control over media in northeast Mexico was highlighted by a journalist’s recent personal account.
This is not the first sign Argentina’s drug gangs are becoming increasingly violent and powerful forces as the drug trade continues to embed itself in the country. In January, officials in the northeastern city of Rosario — which has been hard hit by drug-gang battles — noted the high number of recent murders attributed to hitmen on motorcycles, a method popularized by Colombia’s Medellin Cartel in the 1980s and 1990s.
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It is also common for the region’s criminal groups to employ poor youth, who serve as an affordable and expendable labor source, to do their dirty work.
The growth in drug gangs and related murders in places like Rosario, and now Mendoza, has occurred as transnational criminal groups have begun to more firmly establish themselves in the country. This has spurred the growth of the local drug market, which led to the rise of smaller criminal groups such as the Angels who do contract work for larger crime syndicates as well as delve into their own illicit activities.