HomeArgentinaSalta, Argentina
ARGENTINA

Salta, Argentina

GEOGRAPHIC PROFILES / 15 MAR 2021 BY INSIGHT CRIME EN

Salta is the main gateway for cocaine entering Argentina. Drugs enter via Salvador Mazza and Aguas Blancas, parts of which share a land border with Bolivia. Alternatively, criminal groups fly cocaine to aerial drop-off points in the south of the province, in areas bordering Santiago del Estero and Tucumán. Drug flows between Salta and Chile have also been reported, although these appear minor in comparison to trafficking along the border with Bolivia.  

Salta is also a historical contraband hotspot, with significant flows of illicit goods entering the province via the same clandestine border routes. These also serve to move victims of human trafficking of Bolivian and Chinese origin. 

Salta is well known for being the home of one of the most important drug trafficking organizations in Argentina: The Castedo Clan. 

Criminal Actors 

Castedo Clan: The scope of the Castedo Clan’s activities illustrates the level at which criminal groups have penetrated the provincial government. The group’s members have enjoyed protection from federal judges and deputies. Delfín Castedo, one of the clan’s leaders, was once described as the “right-hand man” or the protégé of a local politician called Ernesto Aparicio. Both were denounced as drug traffickers by a woman in Salvador Mazza, who claimed that her husband had been assassinated in the late 1990s by the now-deceased Aparicio. The widow was killed a month after her public declarations. Among those sentenced for her murder was Aparicio, along with Castedo’s brother. Castedo’s brother reportedly shares lawyers with the president of Salvador Mazza’s city council, who was arrested in February 2016 for forming a group that transported 287 kilograms of cocaine, found in a Mercedes Benz truck owned by Aparicio. Aparicio was also politically linked to a powerful politician named Juan Carlos Romero. Romero was governor of Salta from 1995 to 2007 and National Senator for the province from 1987 to 1995, and again from 2007 until the present day. There have long been rumors of Romero’s involvement in drug trafficking, fueled by the arrests of his relatives in possession of cocaine. 

Criminal economies 

Arms Trafficking: The are indications of arms trafficking in Salta, but no detailed information on how the involved groups operate. Recent operations in Argentina show that many businesses acquire weapons with the intent of transporting them to Bolivia and Brazil. This does not appear to be a large criminal market. 

Cocaine: Cocaine seizures have become more frequent and efforts to capture drug kingpins in Salta may have pushed major traffickers into the shadows. Also, the government’s emphasis on attacking local drug peddling has yielded positive results. Nonetheless, Salta is still the key entry point for cocaine produced in Bolivia and smuggled into Argentina, even if bigger shipments have become less frequent. The use of human “mules” to move cocaine remains commonplace and the business remains vibrant. The routes used to transport the drug from Salta to the ports are well known: Highways 9, 34, 50, and 40. The modus operandi is also well known: traffickers use trucks and big vehicles to hide the drugs. They store the cocaine in Orán or other municipalities close to the border, and then when they have more than 500 kilograms, they move it to Buenos Aires and then to the ports. 

Cannabis: Marijuana trafficking is a common trade in Salta. The province is part of an alternative smuggling route for marijuana, from Paraguay into Argentina, and often to Chile. There is also a significant market for local cannabis consumption, but Salta is mainly a transit point. 

Environmental Crime: Illegal logging and deforestation are constant in the province, but there is little understanding of the scale of the problem. Greenpeace has made efforts to stop deforestation, but the Salta and Chaco provinces are still seriously affected by this issue. There is no way to estimate the criminal revenues from logging or deforestation, as the activities are not necessarily linked to organized crime, and there are few studies of the trade. 

Human Trafficking: Human trafficking, and more specifically sex trafficking, is common in Salta. The province houses permanent networks of human traffickers. High levels of poverty force some women into sex work and, in some cases, their relatives sell them to sex trafficking rings. It is, however, not clear how much money criminal groups earn from this criminal economy because of scant information on the trade.  

Human Smuggling: There are some cases of Chinese citizens transiting through Salta on their way to other countries. However, there is almost no information on how smuggling networks operate in Salta. 

Kidnapping: Recently, an organization carrying out express kidnappings in Salta was broken up by police. Such kidnappings can provide an alternative source of income for local criminal groups, otherwise dedicated to local drug peddling, but it is a small-scale operation. 

Sources: This profile is based on a field investigation in Salta 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), investigative sources with the State, representatives of Aregentina’s Chamber of Commerce, and local journalists, most of whom requested anonymity. InSight Crime also drew from information provided by Argentina’s Interior Ministry, the Defense Ministry, the National Geography Institute, the National Institute of Statistics and Censuses, the Government of Salta, and local press.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

CLAN ROTELA / 25 FEB 2021

Paraguay’s capital is a transit point for Bolivian cocaine shipped through the Tri-Border area, bound for Brazil. The Paraguay River,…

COCAINE / 16 FEB 2021

Santa Bárbara sees its fair share of narcotics seizures and has played host to major drug trafficking groups such as…

COCAINE / 16 FEB 2021

In Copán – a major transit point for cocaine – drug trafficking groups collaborate with local authorities to smuggle narcotics over the department’s porous western border with Guatemala.

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Unraveling the Web of Elites Connected to Organized Crime

27 JUL 2021

InSight Crime published Elites and Organized Crime in Nicaragua, a deep dive into the relationships between criminal actors and elites in that Central American nation.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime’s Greater Focus on US-Mexico Border

20 JUL 2021

InSight Crime has decided to turn many of its investigative resources towards understanding and chronicling the criminal dynamics along the US-Mexico border.

THE ORGANIZATION

Key Arrests and Police Budget Increases Due to InSight Crime Investigations

8 JUL 2021

With Memo Fantasma’s arrest, InSight Crime has proven that our investigations can and will uncover major criminal threats in the Americas.

THE ORGANIZATION

Organized Crime’s Influence on Gender-Based Violence

30 JUN 2021

InSight Crime investigator Laura N. Ávila spoke on organized crime and gender-based violence at the launch of a research project by the United Nations Development Programme.

THE ORGANIZATION

Conversation with Paraguay Judicial Operators on PCC

24 JUN 2021

InSight Crime Co-director Steven Dudley formed part of a panel attended by over 500 students, all of whom work in Paraguay's judicial system.