Argentina: The Latest Port of Call for Drug Cartels


Argentina got a boost with the recent capture of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman and is expanding its role in the world’s drug-trafficking industry. As America’s “war on drugs” was fought in Mexico and Colombia, the drug cartels were forced to move further and further south until they found a home, and sponsor, in South America’s second largest country. Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, has not only been unable to stop the flow of drugs, many of her policies, such as removing all border guards from the northern boundary, have facilitated the free-flowing of drugs and the chemicals to make them.

The country’s citizens are becoming increasingly concerned over higher-than-normal levels of drug use and rising drug violence. The northern and central regions of the country are being especially hard hit as the local drug providers flourish and expand the drug trade.

Despite the recent capture of “El Chapo” in Mexico, the Sinaloa Cartel still thrives throughout Argentina. The Sinaloa Cartel began moving into the land of “La Pampa” in 2005 when the country became a major supplier for chemicals used in the manufacture of cocaine and methamphetamine. Setting up shop in Buenos Aires, the cartel’s tentacles have grown to reach the furthest most parts of the nation.

The expansion of the cartels has overwhelmed many of the country’s jurisdictions. In the northern town of Oran, 20 miles from the shared border with Bolivia, 7,000 drug trafficking cases have remained unresolved. While the case load in Oran is the highest in the country, there are many jurisdictions that have huge backups of uncompleted investigations.

Many of the drugs entering Argentina come through the riverside resort town of Mar de Plata, 400 miles south of Buenos Aires. From the docks, the drugs are put onto trucks and delivered to the capital, where the packages are broken down into small quantities before being shipped to other markets. A large percentage of the drugs remains in the capital for local distribution.

In central Argentina, increased drug violence is raising concern as well. In January, Antonio Bonfatti, Santa Fe provincial governor, traveled to Washington DC to meet with US officials. The meetings centered on the country’s rising drug trafficking and Bonfatti sought help in reducing the violence. Rosario, the largest city in Santa Fe, has already seen a spike in murders this year. Sources within the US State Department say that Rosario’s location make it especially vulnerable. The city sits at the intersection of highways between Buenos Aires and the drug production areas of Bolivia and Paraguay.

Argentina for years has been a high traffic area for cocaine. In recent years international criminal organizations have centralized their presence and have begun to use Argentina as an operational base. Argentina’s security minister recently affirmed that the country has become a major producer and consumer of drugs in addition to being a place where drugs can be safely transported.

What Part Does Mexican Cartels Play in Argentina Violence?

Argentina has become a key source for chemicals for the Mexican drug cartels. Rosario has become the center of the drug trade that is fueling increased violence and street crime throughout the country.

Rosario, Argentina’s third most populous city, has been best known as the birthplace of soccer superstar, Lionel Messi, and revolutionary Che Guevara. Lately it’s gained notoriety as Argentina’s drug manufacturing capital. If, as Argentina’s Security Minister, Nilda Garrésay, says the country is in the beginning stages of a war against drug trafficking, then the front line stretches from Rosario to Buenos Aires.

As Rosario has become an increasingly important transit point for drugs shipped to Mexican cartels, violence in the city has also risen. Each year since 2004 there have been more than 1,000 murders tied directly to drug trafficking in the city. Prior to 2004, the annual number of drug-related murders was steady at 70. Rosario has also begun witnessing intimidation campaigns targeting judges and journalists.

Kirchner’s Role

The administrations of Nestor Kirchner and his wife and successor, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, have repeatedly been unwilling to try to regulate the drug trade. It’s not surprising. A 2013 report by International Assessment and Strategy Center (IASC) revealed that drug traffickers have been some of their main source of cash for their campaign funding.

The 2013 annual IASC report shows that Kirchner’s 2007 campaign received almost a third of publicly declared campaign donations, about $1.5 million, from individuals affiliated with pharmaceutical companies. These pharmaceutical companies have established and recognized cartel affiliations. The nation’s news media have revealed that the Sinaloa Cartel, under Guzman, bankrolled a large portion of Fernandez’s campaign and played a large role in her victory.

Kirchner’s administration provides no oversight as precursor chemicals have poured into the country. According to trade data included in the IASC paper, Argentina imported 22.5 tons of chemicals, while he legal pharmaceutical requirements were only 1 ton of ephedrine for its total annual use. According to the report, many of the shipments were organized by Zhenli Ye Gon, a major Sinaloa Cartel player. Ye Gon leveraged his contacts inside China to procure large shipments of ephedrine to Argentina. Processed between Rosario and Buenos Aires, the product was packed into wine bottles and shipping cartons and sent, through a state approved shipping company, to Mexico, where the money ended up in El Chapo’s pockets.

With weak and corrupt law enforcement, widespread governmental corruption and the Kirchner administration’s reluctance to address the issue, large-scale seizures will increase as local traffickers and their international backers increase. As they do, the violence seen in Rosario will become even more common throughout the country.

Argentina may be poised to be the next Mexico or Colombia. With hyper-inflation and corruption permeating the land of Tango, controlling drug trafficking may be more than the current administration can, or wants to, deal with.

By Jerry Nelson

Insight Crime
American Task Force
NY Times

2 Responses to "Argentina: The Latest Port of Call for Drug Cartels"

  1. Lucy Espada   May 11, 2015 at 12:31 am


  2. Headroom Comentator   April 9, 2014 at 2:38 am

    “Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, has not only been unable to stop the flow of drugs, many of her policies, such as removing all border guards from the northern boundary, have facilitated the free-flowing of drugs and the chemicals to make them”.

    Nice thought-manipulation there, Mr. Media.

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