In a nutshell, Mexican and Colombian drug cartels may occupy a narco-spotlight for the United States and Europe, yet are by no means alone.
Investigative journalists Virginia Messi and Juan Manuel Bordon’s book Narcolandia: Por Que Argentian Se Convirtio en el Paraiso de los Traficantes Colombianos note that seasoned narcos – including from Sinaloa and Cali – have been setting shop in Argentina’s north for years. Such players’ regional presence is not only telling, but key to their southern operations’ instrumentation.
Henry de Jesus “Mi Sangre” Lopez Londoño – an Argentine-residing Colombian drug trafficker captured in 2014 – nevertheless adds that the Argentine drug business is comparatively “still in diapers”.
At the Right Place, At the Right Time
Despite notable distance from major Western consumer countries, Buenos Aires is an international trading landmark.
Buenos Aires’ maritime scene plays a significant role in transnational legal and illegal activity. In June 2017, 55 kilos of cocaine – worth 11 million euros – shipping among Argentine lemon juice, was discovered by Italian drug enforcement in Calabria. Calabria is coincidentally home of the ‘Ngdragheta, the less internationally famous counterpart of the Cosa Nostra and yet one of the most important global criminal organizations – particularly regarding it’s approximately annual U$S300 billion-worth cocaine trade revenue. The ‘Ngdragheta have been known to support illicit Argentine operations since at least 2007.
Buenos Aires’ air traffic scene is also of note. Despite increased security since 9/11 and the revamping of the Drug War, innovation on the part of the narco-traffickers prevail.. A 2016 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report lists large Argentine-registered aircraft heavy with narcotics touching down in farmland across the Iberian Peninsula – key drug distribution starting points in Europe, a high consumer region along with the US.
Argentina increasingly takes the narco hub title due to its local geography. Insight Crime notes that to its south, cocaine and other narcotic substance shipments have been found crossing the Argentine-Chilean border amid the inner linings of truck tires. To its north, its border status with the coca paste and cultivation hubs of Peru, and otherwise landlocked Paraguay and Bolivia are both strategic and lucrative. Even though Argentina is not known for cultivating the crop, the vast, distant, generally impoverished and low population density of its northern provinces breed natural headquarters for illicit trade.
Gambling with Gringos
Argentina and US drug enforcement entities currently maintain joint initiatives, despite past strain. In 2011, Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman of the then incumbent Peronista government, accused a US military aircraft – a C-17 Globemaster III – of transporting arms and drugs into Ezeiza International Airport. The US State Department stipulated that Argentine authorities return training equipment.
Yet tensions escalated when Timerman continued shedding in a negative light that certain members of the involved Buenos Aires Metropolitan Police had been sent to train at a military academy in El Salvador, funded by the United States without official permission. The endeavor was arranged by the office of then Buenos Aires Mayor, Mauricio Macri. Macri is part of an opposition political party to said former administration.
Overall, the witnessed effect of local political drama causing and jeopardizing relations between countries and hemispheric security is concerning.
Argentine-US anti-narco relations did not allegedly normalize until 2014, when the US Embassy in Buenos Aires released a report regarding narco-trafficking’s steep increase and the urgent necessity of strengthened cooperation in the southern cone.
The report came timely with the 2015 Argentine presidential elections. Kirchnerista-Peronistas of the chilled Drug War-past lost to Marci, a conservative businessmen eager to occupy the niche of making new impressions to less protectionist, more business friendly allies – including US public and private entities.
Within months of swearing into office, newly elected President Macri announced that the local police were to welcome increased DEA activity in the country. In 2017, the Macri administration purchased over U$S2 billion worth in arms, allegedly in light of Drug War efforts.
Seeking Help Elsewhere
“Patch work” is one adjective for Argentine drug-enforcement efforts beyond US aid; “easy” is not. Certain judges who have processed thousands of drug related cases have recently been retired either on their own accord or not. In 2014, the Rosario Police Department arrested a corrupt officer and street criminal after telephone recordings revealed assassination plans against Judge Juan Carlos Vienna. Vienna was processing 36 Los Monos narco-gang members at the time of the conspiracy.
Others continue to fight. The governments of Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Brazil have all signed anti-narco accords of varying extents with Argentina, but to limited effect and not without its hiccoughs. In June 2017, Argentine and Paraguayan officials captured an Uruguay-registered, Paraguayan originated plane – a Piper PA-23-35 – packed with 450 kilos of marijuana, detaining six traffickers.
Federal Prosecutor of the town of Oran, Jose Luis Bruno, less successfully proposed in 2015 that Bolivia and Argentina build a wall along their borders to stave drug routes. High level Bolivian officials rejected the proposition, citing mutual lack of economic resources and ethical division arguments paralleling the Trump-era US-Mexican border.
Moreover, Argentina may never be as infamous for nacro-trafficking as Colombian and Mexican counterparts. Yet the reach of those who place said countries on the map is far and worthy of zero underestimation.