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Column 110314 Brewer

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Southbound Assault on Argentina by Organized Crime

By Jerry Brewer

Much like Mexico in 2005, transnational organized criminals have stealthily and increasingly encroached into the Argentine homeland, engaging in violent battles for control of lucrative criminal turf and illicit contraband supply chains.

As superior weaponry and espionage-like tradecraft emerged in a shootout in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico in August 2005, Mexican and U.S. officials were in significant denial as to the seriousness of the incident, not only blaming local “drug dealers” but too they claimed it was all under control.

In December of 2006, newly inaugurated President Felipe Calderon found the country in a near failed state from death and violence. A paramilitary type of criminal enemy was attacking Mexican police head-on in deliberate ambushes, as well as kidnapping and murdering police and local governing officials.

Much of this continues to this day as Mexico struggles to build and better its police infrastructure, and valiantly attempts to rely less on the military that has been critically needed for national security.

And today, with little to no doubt, Argentina is on a near verbatim path.

It is abundantly clear that national borders are of little hindrance to the diabolical financial pursuits of transnational organized criminals.  Leaving death and destruction along their paths, the relentless push to complete their mission as messiahs of contraband and their insatiable thirst for massive wealth are the main motivating factors.

Argentina used to be a transit country for drug trafficking; it is now a huge consumer country, controlled by an ever growing nucleus of illicit power brokers and growing corruption of security forces.

Argentina is now the second largest domestic market for cocaine in Latin America, after Brazil. It has become both a major market and transit point in the world drug trade.

Furthermore, Argentina is currently “a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking,” according to the U.S. State Department.  There appear to be significant numbers of sex trafficking victims from rural areas or northern provinces, and the Chilean border region, who are “forced into prostitution in urban centers.”  Many are sent to wealthier provinces in central and southern Argentina.

The ripple effect from those actions is graphically illustrated as Argentina now consumes five times more cocaine than the global average, and has one of the highest usage rates in the world. Argentina has the highest prevalence of cocaine use among adults in South America. And international trafficking groups have recently expanded their activities within Argentina, "increasing exportation and transforming it from a transit point into a destination for consumption and synthesis." 

Geographically and politically speaking, there is certainly much blame and a finger to point at several leftist regimes in South America that have done much to hinder successful apprehension and interdiction of major drug traffickers and their facilitators. Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia are part of the problem that is seriously impacting the Southern Cone nations. These three leftist-led countries refuse to cooperate with highly technical and sophisticated US involved anti-drug enforcement activities.  This insulated layer of cover allows transnational organized crime insurgents, from Mexico and Central America, to flow further south into new markets of drug trafficking, kidnapping/extortion for ransom, robbery, murder for hire, and human/sex trafficking.

The decision by Venezuela's former president, the late Hugo Chavez, to kick the U.S. DEA out of Venezuela, also caught on with Bolivia and Ecuador's presidents, Evo Morales and Rafael Correa respectively, with Correa refusing to renew the lease for the drug interdiction base at Manta for U.S. drug interdiction efforts in the region.

Argentina is also becoming a major producer of chemical precursors for cocaine production, a growing drug money laundering haven, and a significant drug transit country.  Its drug consumption rates have exploded, and it has become a destination for drug synthesis, with a new role as a producer of chemical precursors.

It is reported that in northern Argentina drug traffickers cross the border from Bolivia, bringing in between 80 to 90 percent of the country's cocaine. Authorities in the Argentine province of Salta are understaffed, and several officials have been ambushed and killed by criminal groups.

Nearly half of the murders reported in the first 26 days of 2014 in Rosario, Argentina, were committed by hired assassins. Rosario, in the province of Santa Fe, has become an important drug transit point in Argentina due to its location at the end of Ruta 34, known as Argentina's cocaine trafficking highway.

Much like Mexico and the U.S. frustration with porous borders, Argentina has little control of its borders. Too, Argentina faces serious challenges in anti-drug initiatives. Cases of high-level corruption have impacted the effectiveness of law enforcement as the country's judicial system faces severe delays, inefficiency and thousands of cases.

Complicating matters in 2013, Argentina's authorities freed 202 Colombians from forced labor who were lured to Argentina on the promise of work and ultimately forced into inhumane conditions. Police arrested more than 20 Colombians that controlled the workers that spanned ten provinces.

Last May ten police stations were raided in Rosario following an order from the Federal Justice Department spotlighting the city's perception as a growing hub of organized crime and corruption.

Argentina cites a critical need for proper coordination, training, criminal intelligence and professionalization of their criminal justice functions, policing infrastructure and security forces.

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Jerry Brewer is C.E.O. of Criminal Justice International Associates, a global threat mitigation firm headquartered in northern Virginia.  His website is located at www.cjiausa.org.

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