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Spanish Arrests Focus Spotlight on Argentina

ARGENTINA / 23 FEB 2011 BY INSIGHT CRIME EN

The recent arrests of three Argentines in Spain highlight the increasing use of this country as a trampoline to send drugs to Europe. The use of Argentina as a drug transhipment point also seems to have led to increased corruption and more local drug consumption.

In January, Spanish authorities seized three Argentine nationals carrying more than 900 kilos of cocaine on an Argentine aircraft, the EFE news agency reported. Two of the Argentines were sons of the former head of the Argentine Air Force. The third was the son of a former high-ranking official.

The air force later dismissed Jorge Ayerdi, the commander of Moron Airbase where the so-called 'narco avion' reportedly began its journey. The government reinforced rules regarding the use of private aircraft at Argentine airports.

The growth of the European consumer market seems to be fueling the increased use of Argentina as a transhipment point. The 2010 United Nations World Drug Report says 4.5 million Europeans consume cocaine regularly versus just over 6 million in the North American market. Much of these drugs pass through Argentina. The UN report said seizures were up 51 percent in 2008 from 2007.

This has had unintended side effects. The UN says that Argentina has the highest cocaine use in South America. And it ranks second in marijuana use in the region.

What's more, since the early 1990's, Argentine state officials have increasingly been linked to the expanding drug trade. The 'narco avion' case in Spain is just the latest example. As Clarin details, cases of corruption date back to 1991, and include former high ranking officials of all stripes and colors.

Links to drug traffickers have also surfaced in the Argentine Drug Control Division. In 2008, director of the Division, José Ramón Granero, was accused of transporting some 50 pounds of cocaine.

Drug traffickers use the same trafficking corridors for other products moving north as well. Taking advantage of Argentina's robust pharmaceutical industry and responding to recent changes in legislation in Mexico that prohibited bulk imports of pseudoephedrine and ephedrine, Mexican drug cartels have established networks with pseudoephedrine importers in Argentina (which also prohibited ephedrine imports in 2008).

The so-called "ephedrine highway" links the Argentine importers to Mexican cartels, who then produce methamphetamines in Mexico or transport the ephedrine to the United States to produce it closer to the buyers.

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