Argentina’s Ports ‘Free Zones’ for Drug Trafficking: Inspector General

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Serious failings in inspections at Argentina’s ports and airports are facilitating the flow of illegal drugs, says the country’s inspector general, raising further concerns about the movement of cocaine through the Southern Cone nation.

Leandro Despouy, head of Argentina’s Inspector General’s Office (AGN), claimed the country’s ports and airways serve as “free zones” for drug traffickers and called the absence of controls “deliberate,” reported La Nacion. A recently released AGN evaluation of controls in ports in Buenos Aires, Campana and San Lorenzo between June 2010 and June 2012 found that scanners in these ports failed to distinguish between organic and inorganic substances, preventing them from determining whether drugs were present in containers.

The head of the customs office rejected the AGN’s claims, stating that Despouy “lacks the technical knowledge” necessary to evaluate controls, that he never met with customs officials about the matter, and that Argentina is a “leader” in scanner technology. However, the customs head at one Buenos Aires port terminal anonymously told La Nacion the AGN’s findings were correct.

In an earlier report, the AGN noted numerous flaws in airport anti-drug controls in Ezeiza, Cordoba and Mendoza, including inadequate scanner systems and a lack of regulations to determine which commercial airliners be inspected.

InSight Crime Analysis

According to the latest UNODC World Drug Report, Argentina is the third most often cited country of provenance for cocaine seizures around the world, and its growing drug market is evidenced by the fact that authorities seized 40 percent more cocaine between January and October 2012 than in the same period the year before.

Despite the government’s sharp rejection of the AGN’s claims, other investigations have suggested a lack of controls in parts of Argentina contributes to drug trafficking. A 2012 investigation found a lack of law enforcement checkpoints along the Route 34 highway, which stretches from Bolivia to Buenos Aires, despite the fact that it is believed to be the key cocaine smuggling route for drugs headed to the country’s main cities.

The province of Chaco near the border with Paraguay and Bolivia has also been called a drug trafficking “free zone” and is considered a major transit point for drug flights.

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