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Salta, Argentina


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.

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