Argentina's defense minister has acknowledged the country is now a drug producer, an admission that underscores the increasing strength of the drug trade, as violence rises in major production and distribution centers.
"Argentina used to be a transit country, now it's a consumer country, and what is more serious, it is a producer country," Defense Minister Agustin Rossi told Radio Rivadavia.
He pointed particularly to the situation in Rosario, where turf wars between rival drug gangs have led to rising violence in the past year, reported La Nacion.
Security Minister Sergio Berni was quick to deny Rossi's claims, stating: "Those of us who work every day in the fight against drug trafficking know that Argentina is not a producer," reported Radio Rivadavia.
Rossi's comments come as the government considers implementing a new anti-drug strategy that would place more responsibility in the hands of local police and provincial courts to target drug distribution points, which provincial governments say are responsible for much of the street crime, reported La Nacion.
InSight Crime Analysis
While Argentina has long been used as a refuge by foreign drug lords, lax regulations on precursor chemicals have made the country increasingly attractive to transnational criminal groups, it is one of South America's two biggest domestic markets for cocaine, and an important transit point for Europe-bound cocaine.
As Mexican cartels have begun to establish a more permanent presence in the country, drug production has also grown within Argentina's borders. In the past year, cocaine "kitchens" have been discovered in Rosario, the Patagonia region and Buenos Aires, while recent discoveries of ecstasy laboratories also point to rising synthetic drug production.
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At the same time, increases in violence in the likes of Rosario, which lies at the end of Argentina's famous "Ruta 34" cocaine trafficking highway, indicates growing strength among both foreign and domestic drug trafficking groups -- with turf battles in Rosario producing record homicide numbers in 2013.
As evidenced by Berni's quick rejection of Rossi's claims regarding domestic production, the issue is highly politicized. With Rossi recently coming out to refute the possibility of deploying troops to deal the problem, it is a security issue likely to feature prominently in the run up to presidential elections in 2015.