A string of arrests has led Argentina's Security Minister to denounce the links between drug trafficking and local politics in a small town located along the Paragauyan border that serves as a key marijuana smuggling route.
Hernán Aquino, the brother of the vice mayor of the town of Itatí, was arrested on February 20 along with four other individuals who had in their possession over 500 kilos of marijuana, reported La Nación.
Itatí Vice Mayor Fabio Aquino denied on February 22 that he had any links with his brother's drug trafficking activities, according to La Nación. That same day, Aquino presented himself before judicial authorities to answer any questions they may have about the case.
A week prior to the arrest, the daughter and the son-in-law of Itatí's mayor, Natividad Terán, were detained for their alleged involvement with one of the area's major marijuana trafficking groups, allegedly headed by Luis Saucedo, alias "El Gordo." Saucedo, a municipal employee, reportedly possessed 23 vehicles and three properties. His organization appears to have worked with Los Monos, a criminal organizations from the city of Rosario, according to La Capital.
"Itatí was run by narco-politics," Security Minister Patricia Bullrich said following the arrest of the mayor's daughter. "It appears we are facing a criminal group that used political connections to commit crimes and enjoy impunity from the law," she added in a press release.
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Authorities are reportedly investigating three drug trafficking clans in the area that are suspected of exploiting political connections in order to facilitate their operations.
The press release notes eight metric tons of marijuana have been seized since December 2015 in the small town, which is inhabited by less than 8,000 people and sits along the border with Paraguay, reported EFE. "Itatí is the gateway for the smuggling of marijuana in Argentina," a judicial investigator told La Nación.
InSight Crime Analysis
While the mayor and vice mayor of Itatí have not yet been implicated, the arrests of their family members as well as the Security Minister's statements suggest that the drug trade has infiltrated local politics along this key transit point.
Itatí is located along the fluvial border with Paraguay, the largest marijuana producer in South America. With just 5 percent of Paraguay's marijuana consumed internally, much of the product is smuggled into neighboring countries such as Argentina and Brazil along river routes. This has turned small towns located along these routes such as Itatí into marijuana smuggling capitals, fueling local crime and corruption.
Local corruption is a growing problem throughout much of Latin America. In Central America's Northern Triangle region (El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras), an increasing number of mayors are facing organized crime related charges, some of whom even allegedly headed a criminal network while in office.