A recent article in Foreign Policy outlines the rapid proliferation of drug trafficking in Argentina – a problem compounded by the geography of exposed borders, a strong European market, a strong domestic market, and the displacement of northern cartels from the continuation of militarized crackdowns in Mexico and Colombia. And as HELA discussed last month, the continued insistence of the US to stick to a painfully outdated and counterproductive drug policy that refuses to consider legalization has created breakdowns in cross-border cooperation between Argentine and US enforcement agencies.
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Busts over the past two years suggest that Spain is an especially popular entry point for drugs dispatched from Argentina. In April 2010, Spanish officials seized 800 kilograms of cocaine from a truck disguised as an official support vehicle for the Dakar Rally off-road race, later affirming that the drugs were loaded in Argentina. Last January, an executive jet piloted by two sons of Argentine dictatorship-era air force generals arrived in Barcelona from Argentina laden with 1,000 kilograms of cocaine, with the ties to the military piquing concern about institutional corruption. These busts suggest a clear transit route between the two countries and raise questions as to how such a high volume of drugs are exiting Argentina undetected. According to an official report compiled by Martin Verrier, a security advisor for Argentine congressman Francisco de Narvaez, 95 percent of the cocaine shipped from Argentina safely arrives at its destination. “In Argentina, the situation is such that narcotraffickers enter and exit without inconvenience,” laments Claudio Izaguirre, president of the Argentine Anti-Drugs Association, a Buenos Aires-based NGO.
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“Pretty much everyone I know does it,” says a 30 year-old Argentine waitress who buys about a gram of cocaine a week. “It’s very easy to get hold of and the nightlife here makes it all but necessary. You can work on it and you don’t have to sleep.”In Argentina, a gram of pure cocaine sells for about 100 pesos, or less than $25, whereas the same amount would cost $120 in the United States. “Buying cocaine in Argentina is like buying coca cola — it’s ridiculously easy,” says a 25 year-old American female who lived in Buenos Aires until this April, and enjoyed the ease with which she has been able to buy cocaine, acid, and ecstasy. “I’ve never felt I had to worry about the law. I’ve even had friends take bumps as they walk down the street.” In 2008, Argentina surpassed its neighbors and the United States: it now has the highest prevalence of cocaine use in the Western Hemisphere: approximately 2.6 percent of the country’s population aged 15-64 uses cocaine, a 117 percent increase since 2000. Argentines now consume five times more cocaine than the global average and has one of the highest usage rates in the world.
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Smugglers move raw cocaine from Bolivia, Peru, and Colombia to clandestine laboratories in Argentina, where they refine it before shipping it to Europe. Approximately 250 such labs are hidden around Argentina. As chemical import legislation tightens in other countries in the region, the laboratories’ narco-chemists are also producing shipments of heroine, ephedrine, and methamphetamines, which are dispatched to Mexico by sea, and then finally trafficked across the border to the United States. While no estimates exist for the total amount of precursor chemicals present in the country, in 2010, authorities seized more ephedrine in Argentina than in any other country except China.