Argentina a drug destination

With drug gangs looking to expand their operations, Argentina, which was a transit point in the 1990s, has turned into a... With drug gangs looking to expand their operations, Argentina, which was a transit point in the 1990s, has turned into a profitable marketplace. There is a huge local demand for drugs. And unlike governments in some other countries in the region that are engaged in aggressive drug wars, the government here has not yet aimed the full might of its military on traffickers.

_They haven_t come up against any problems with the courts _ there is no war on narcos in Argentina _ so they operate here with total ease,_ said Claudio Izaguirre, the president of the Antidrug Association of the Argentine Republic.

Argentina_s Security Ministry, in an effort to show its resolve in taking on traffickers, makes near daily announcements of its latest cocaine or marijuana raid, or discovery of a synthetic-drug laboratory.

In recent weeks, the authorities have found seven tons of marijuana in a house in Posadas, just across the Paran__ River from Paraguay; arrested a corporal of Argentina_s gendarmerie for carrying 110 kilograms, or about 243 pounds, of cocaine in his car; and apprehended a government ambulance, its sirens blaring and a patient in the back, with 25 kilograms, or about 55 pounds, of cocaine.

_Drug trafficking responds to the logic of globalization. It doesn_t recognize boundaries,_ said Nilda Garr__, Argentina_s security minister.

_The growth and rate of domestic consumption sustained in Argentina since 2003 may be attracting money with an illicit origin,_ Ms. Garr__ said in a statement. _The situation is being carefully monitored by Justice Ministry authorities. Nevertheless, I must emphasize that Argentina, a country of 40 million, is a market of marginal interest for drug traffickers intent upon reaching areas of mass consumption in the United States and Europe._

In June, the police seized 20,000 doses of paco, a highly addictive, smokable cocaine residue, and arrested seven Peruvians with ties to the Shining Path, a Maoist guerrilla group, on suspicion of running a home-delivery service in Buenos Aires. Buoyed by global commodity prices, Argentina_s economy grew at an average rate of 7.7 percent from 2004 to 2010, lifting millions out of poverty after the 2002 economic collapse.

Lately, though, the economy has cooled, which has made the fast money of drug dealing more appealing. Some of the drugs on the streets are imported, but others are local, including synthetic products created with the cheap, pirated pharmaceuticals that are widely available here.

In many pockets of this sprawling country, government officials and services are largely absent. Drug gangs have moved in to provide services to marginalized areas in exchange for silence, said Edgardo Buscaglia, a law professor in Mexico and a former United Nations official who completed a research mission in Argentina last year.

_This is a place where the probability of indictment is extremely low, where the authorities in the provinces don_t have any capacity to investigate complex crimes, and which doesn_t cooperate much internationally,_ Mr. Buscaglia said.

The Sinaloa drug gang has infiltrated poor communities in the densely tropical area that borders Paraguay and Brazil in the north, where, with the complicity of local authorities, it can act with impunity.

Police officials say that Colombian and Mexican traffickers live quietly with their families in some of the most exclusive areas of Argentina, which they consider safer than their home countries. They appoint local intermediaries to run their drug operations.

With large quantities of dollars nearly impossible to obtain legally in Argentina, traffickers frequently pay retailers in drugs, contributing to a growing problem of domestic consumption, the police and prosecutors say. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Argentina had the highest prevalence of cocaine use in South and Central America among 15- to 64-year-olds, with 25 percent of the region_s users _ second only to Brazil.

_In terms of accessibility, you have it on every street corner,_ said Mart__n Iribarne, an addiction specialist and the director of the San Camilo Foundation, which operates a residential drug rehabilitation center in Buenos Aires Province. _In the beginning, we accepted that the cartels came here on their way to other places. Afterward, it was our market._

By EMILY SCHMALL

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