Monday, June 26, 2017
Mexico Cartel Tied to Argentina's
Second-Largest Cocaine Sting
By Tristan Clavel
Authorities believe that the second-largest cocaine seizure
in Argentina's history is linked to a Mexican cartel that exploited an unusual trafficking route, suggesting that Argentina's transshipment role is continuing to grow, most likely due to both domestic and international drug-related developments.
Argentina's Federal Police seized two metric tons of cocaine -- the second-largest cocaine seizure in the country's
history, worth an estimated $60 million -- in the Bahía Blanca port city of Buenos Aires province on June 19. Another
500 kilograms were seized in the Luján de Cuyo city of Mendoza province close to the Chilean border, according to a
Security Ministry press release.
Authorities believe the drugs were smuggled from Chile to the province of Mendoza and
on to Buenos Aires. In Bahía Blanca's port, the cocaine -- reportedly destined for Spain and Canada -- was hidden in steel coils to block customs scanners.
Cocaine has traditionally entered
Argentina through the country's northern provinces bordering Bolivia, and more recently those along the border with Paraguay.
When asked about this unusual
trafficking route, Security Minister Patricia Bullrich said, "The hypothesis is that they selected this route because
the north is heavily controlled."
Seventeen individuals were arrested as part of the operation,
including four Mexican nationals, according to Bullrich. Two others remain at large, reported Clarín. All of the Mexican suspects were reportedly from the state of Michoacán. Three customs officers were also arrested.
"It is possible that the foreigners detained are part of the cartel of Michoacán. We're waiting for
Mexico to give us that information," Bullrich said, without specifying which Michoacán-based crime group she was referring
InSight Crime Analysis
decades, Argentina has developed from a retirement home for Mexican and Colombian capos to a strategic transit point that offers strong incentives
for transcontinental cocaine trafficking. The latest seizure suggests this role is growing, most likely spurred by a combination
of the boom in Andean cocaine production in addition to domestic factors.
attractiveness as a pleasant retirement home for ex-drug lords may be best illustrated by the spate of Colombian capos captured
on the outskirts of Buenos Aires in Nordelta, one of South America's most exclusive neighborhoods, according to Semana. Among them was Henry de Jesus Lopez, alias "Mi Sangre," who in April 2017 described Argentina to Infobae as a "detour corridor" for drugs and a country where government policies facilitate money laundering.
See also: Coverage of Criminal Migration
However, mounting evidence suggests that Argentina is becoming a primary rather than secondary corridor for cocaine destined to Europe. Argentina's commercial ties with Europe and Asia fuel busy maritime trade activities, which create opportunities to traffic drugs
out of the country while also importing precursor chemicals that have long supplied Mexican and Colombian criminal groups making synthetic drugs.
Several factors have contributed to Argentina's growing importance in the international drug trade. First, corruption is widespread, facilitating illicit products' safe transit. Second, laundering drug profits remains relatively easy. Third, Argentina's domestic drug consumption has grown in recent years; local consumption fuels micro-trafficking and allows traffickers to pay local contractors with product rather than cash.
See also: Coverage of Drug Policy
In addition, President Mauricio Macri's economic and security policies may have
had undesired consequences. Measures aimed at enhancing exports have increased the flux of goods through ports, making it
more difficult to detect illicit cargos, while authorities have focused anti-narcotic efforts on the domestic market, reducing the resources available for dealing with the drug trade's transnational linkages.
"Argentina decided to change its policies against drug trafficking," Lucas Manjon, the director of the investigative unit of the
Argentine non-profit Alameda Foundation, told InSight Crime. "If you look at the statistics of illicit products seized [under Macri], there was a considerable
increase in decommissions of marijuana and cocaine of very low quality destined for distribution in the country, [but] seizures
of cocaine of maximum purity decreased a lot due to nonexistent control in ports and airports," Manjon argued.
This commentary was first published in InSight Crime and reposted per a Creative Commons authorization. InSight Crime's objective is to increase
the level of research, analysis and investigation on organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean. Tristan
Clavel graduated from the London School of Economics with a BSc in History and International Relations. He later studied Defense,
Security and Crisis Management at the Institut des Relations Internationales et Stratégiques in Paris.