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Misiones, Argentina

GEOGRAPHIC PROFILES / 15 MAR 2021 BY INSIGHT CRIME EN

Misiones is the main entry point for marijuana smuggled from Paraguay into Argentina across the Paraná River, and it is one of the country’s two most important provinces for marijuana trafficking, along with Corrientes.  

It is also a major contraband hotspot, where products are easily smuggled across the same river or along overland routes that connect the provincial capital, Posadas, to the town of Puerto Iguazú, on the border with Paraguay and Brazil. These two cities see some of Argentina’s largest migration flows, providing cover for human trafficking rings, which move Paraguayan victims into Argentina. 

Criminal Actors 

Barakat Clan: The Barakat family allegedly uses casinos, such as the Casino Iguazú, to launder money, some of it reportedly for Hezbollah, although a case against them is ongoing. 

Criminal Economies 

Cocaine: In 2019, around five tons of cocaine were seized in the province, a 50 percent decrease from the year prior. With the street value of a kilogram of cocaine close to $6,500, the market value of this trade is sizeable, reaching into the tens of millions.  

Cannabis: Cannabis trafficking is the most lucrative criminal economy in Misiones. About 60 percent of cannabis seized in Argentina first entered the country in Misiones. Many marijuana traders are located in the province and have ties with producers in Paraguay. It is easy to transport the drug across the border or into Brazil. Drivers and intermediaries can make about 30 million Argentinan Pesos (about $400,000) just by transporting cannabis through Misiones. The provincial police have identified criminal groups that also import marijuana crops. 

Environmental Crime: Deforestation in Misiones does not appear to be linked to organized crime. Rather, it is driven by efforts to expand agricultural production and big landowner interests. Still, the scale of deforestation in the province could present lucrative opportunities for eco-traffickers in the future.  

Human Trafficking: There appears to be a modest human trafficking industry in Misiones. The province shares a border with Brazil and Paraguay, providing suitable conditions for recruiting and exploiting human trafficking victims. Additionally, women from Misiones are exploited in Corrientes. 

Human Smuggling: Despite its borders with Brazil and Paraguay, it is difficult to identify migrant smuggling rings in Misiones. Most of the individuals rescued in Misiones are human trafficking victims, not migrants.  

Contraband: Contraband is a decades-old phenomenon and a sizable criminal economy in Misiones. The province has become one of Argentina’s main contraband hotspots. Misiones is home to two of Argentina’s largest migrant transit points, providing opportunities for small-scale smugglers to traffic merchandise between Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil. Cigarettes are among the most common items smuggled by contraband networks. Families trafficking cigarettes use the same routes and logistics as those that traffic marijuana and can make as much as 700,000  pesos (nearly $11,000) a week. Cigarettes are the most commonly seized goods along Misiones’ border. Sharing a border with Brazil and Paraguay increases contraband flows of many basic goods like deodorant or even food. Differences in prices between countries provide the greatest incentive for smugglers.  

Sources: This profile is based on two field investigations in PosadasMisiones, and three trips to Buenos Aires where InSight Crime interviewed officials from the Ministry of Security, the Secretariat for Comprehensive Drug Policies of Argentina (Secretaría de Políticas Integrales sobre Drogas de la Nación Argentina – Sedronar), representatives of the federal government and antinarcotics policethe federal attorney’s officelocal academics and journalists, and an environmental activistmost of whom requested anonymity. InSight Crime also drew from information provided by Argentina’s Interior Ministry, the National Geographic Institute, the National Institute of Statistics and Censuses, the Government of Misionesand local press. 

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