HomeNewsAnalysisArgentina: A Haven for Colombian Narcos?
ANALYSIS

Argentina: A Haven for Colombian Narcos?

ARGENTINA / 21 SEP 2011 BY HANNAH STONE EN

Reports that two of Colombia’s most wanted drug traffickers traveled to Argentina to hold talks are only the latest evidence that the country is being used as a hideout and base of operations by members of the Colombian underworld.

According to a report in newspaper El Tiempo, Maximiliano Bonilla Orozco, alias “Valenciano,” and Erick Vargas Cardenas, alias "Sebastian," traveled to the city of Rosario, in northern Argentina, to negotiate a truce. The two men, who are currently locked in a struggle for control of the Colombian city of Medellin, spent at least three days in Rosario in early September, according to Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) sources consulted by El Tiempo. The agency is reportedly investigating how the pair, who between them have rewards worth at least $6 million on their heads from the U.S. and Colombian governments, could have managed to elude authorities and spend time in one of Argentina’s major cities without being caught.

If the story is true, it would not be the first time that high-up members of the Colombian drug trade have used Argentina as a safe location to carry out business, or even to live. The drive to increase security in Colombia over the last decade left many kingpins needing to leave the country, no longer able to enjoy the high life of a Pablo Escobar, and Argentina is suitably far away, as well as being a good location to run trafficking operations and launder money.

Most famously, Hector Edilson Duque Ceballos, alias “Monoteto,” a top member of the Cordillera Cartel, was gunned down in a Buenos Aires shopping mall in 2008. Some reports even said that he had gone to Argentina in order to murder another then-member the same Medellin mafia group as Bonilla and Vargas, who was in the country for surrender negotiations with the DEA.

There are many other high-profile cases. Ignacio Alvarez Meyendorff, allegedly a one-time member the Norte del Valle Cartel and still a leading trafficker, was arrested at Buenos Aires international airport in April on his way back from a trip to Tahiti. He had reportedly been living in a fashionable neighborhood of the city since 2005, and had not apparently been overly cautious with security; he had left and re-entered the country a number of times, and had set up various business enterprises. His fall followed that of business associate Luis Agustin Caicedo Velandia, “Don Lucho,” also caught in Argentina, who likely betrayed him. Alvarez’s brother, Juan Fernando Alvarez Meyendorff, alias “Mecha,” is also thought to be living in the Argentine capital. According to reports, he was detained by police along with Caicedo in 2010, but released without being identified.

Particularly media-friendly was the story of Angela Sanclemente, a former Colombian beauty queen who allegedly headed a massive drug smuggling network that shipped cocaine out of Buenos Aires (see photo, above). She is currently being held in a Argentine jail.

Peruvian traffickers are also building links in Argentina, as detailed in a recent investigation by newspaper Clarin. Despite the arrest of Peruvian alleged capo Marco Antonio Estrada Gonzáles, alias “Marcos,” in 2007, he has continued to run the trade in a neighborhood of Buenos Aires called Bajo Flores, which is the city’s hub for the sale of cocaine and “paco,” a crack-like substance. The product sold there all comes from Peru, and is transported to Argentina by land or by air, with drug “mules” who ingest a load being a thing of the past, according to the report.

There have even been reports that Mexican capo Joaquin Guzman, alias “El Chapo,” perhaps the most wanted man in the world, had moved to Argentina in 2010, leaving only in March of this year.

However, Argentina is not just attracting high-profile capos, but also the lower-down managers who run the drug trade day by day. These Colombian middle-managers are locating themselves in Argentina in order to oversee the export of drugs to Europe, according to reports going back as far as 2008. A recent article in El Pais announced that “the Colombian drug trade has shifted to the south of the continent,” with Argentina becoming a new center of operations for traffickers.

The country is good place to base a drug trafficking business, as it has become increasingly important as a transshipment point for drugs being sent to Europe, either via West Africa or Spain. It shares long land borders with drug-producing Bolivia, and with Paraguay, an important transit route for cocaine and producer of marijuana. Meanwhile the high volume of cargo that passes through its many sea ports and airports help to disguise outgoing drug shipments.

El Pais report highlights the role of Colombians located in the city of Santa Cruz, Bolivia, in shipping cocaine into Argentina. According to the newspaper, Colombian traffickers have set up factories around the city, which process coca leaves from the conveniently close-by Chapare region, one of the country's biggest producers of the leaf. These factories ship drugs over the border into Argentina in "industrial quantities," using roads which are deserted and underpoliced, reports El Pais. As InSight Crime has noted, there have been reports that up to 3,000 Colombians are now based in the city, many thought to have arrived there around 2006

Argentina did not have the necessary climate or location to play a major part in the rise of cocaine in the last century, and this relative absence of the drug business has contributed to the country having a lax regulatory climate and less vigorous law enforcement. Drug kingpins can launder their money through the country’s poorly-regulated financial system. As InSight Crime has previously highlighted, this is made easier by the widespread use of cash, a legal loophole meaning it is not a crime to “launder” your own money, and an under-regulated real estate sector.

Another attraction for drug traffickers is that Argentina is an increasingly important transshipment location for chemicals used to make methamphetamine, as it does not have the restrictions placed on these chemicals in, say, Mexico. In addition to this the country is increasingly emerging as a drug market in its own right, accounting for some 25 percent of Latin America's entire cocaine consumption.

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

ARGENTINA / 21 SEP 2015

Footage shot using a hidden camera sheds light on the dynamics of the Southern Cone’s illicit arms trade, showing how…

COLOMBIA / 14 JUL 2017

In our July 13 Facebook Live, Executive Director Jeremy McDermott spoke to InSight Crime investigator James Bargent about what are…

COLOMBIA / 19 MAY 2020

The Colombian government's latest offer of legal benefits to individuals of armed groups who surrender and face justice was met…

About InSight Crime

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.

THE ORGANIZATION

Combating Environmental Crime in Colombia

15 JUN 2021

InSight Crime presented findings from an investigation into the main criminal activities fueling environmental destruction in Colombia.