A criminal ring that sent synthetic drugs by mail from Argentina to Chile has been taken down in a joint operation, showing how the two countries are joining forces to tackle their growing synthetic drug problem.
The gang, based in Buenos Aires, was sending a range of synthetic drugs, including LSD, methamphetamine and ecstasy by mail to Argentine cities such as San Luis and Córdoba as well as the Chilean capital, Santiago, according to a government statement on September 25.
A series of raids in five properties in Argentina led to seven arrests and the seizure of more than 100 doses of LSD, over 3,100 pills of ecstasy, and 3 kilograms of MDMA powder. In Chile, two people were arrested when they tried to retrieve a package of 1.6 kilograms of MDMA powder which authorities had flagged and tracked since its departure from Buenos Aires' Ezeiza airport.
Two other packages were stopped at Ezeiza, containing thousands of pills hidden amongst camping equipment.
The gang was also fabricating the pills from the drugs in powdered form, stamping them with the effigy of Star Wars villain Darth Vader, before selling them in nightclubs and bars.
InSight Crime Analysis
Argentina's domestic drug market is now large enough to be a major influence on a range of criminal economies. The country has the largest consumption of cocaine per capita in Latin America. A clan of nationwide marijuana traffickers managed to corrupt judges, politicians and police alike in the city of Itatí.
And its consumption of synthetic drugs is now skyrocketing. This has led Buenos Aires to become one of the region's main platforms for drugs such as MDMA and LSD, as this latest case shows.
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It is not the only recent example of Argentina's demand for these drugs having a knock-on effect on its neighbors. In March, Uruguay reported a growing presence of "pink cocaine," a hallucinogenic drug similar to LSD, which was being imported from Buenos Aires.
To its credit, Argentina is taking this threat seriously. As part of a broader response to organized crime, the country is taking an increasingly collaborative approach to fighting criminal threats.
Argentina and Chile's police forces signed an agreement to cooperate against organized crime in April 2018, which led to the successful Salar de Atacama operation in September.
In 2019 alone, Argentine authorities have teamed up with Paraguay to crack down on marijuana trafficking, have arrested top drug traffickers in collaboration with Bolivia, and are seeking a renewed effort against smuggling at the Tri-Border Area with Brazil and Paraguay.
But Argentina faces a stiff challenge in reducing the flow of synthetic drugs. Hundreds of thousands of pills flow into Argentina each year, mostly from Belgium and Germany, according to Martin Verrier, undersecretary for the fight against drug trafficking.
And they are entering everywhere. In 2018, seizures of synthetic drugs were made at the sea ports of Buenos Aires, Rosario, Mar del Plata, Paraná, Mendoza and Santa Fe, as well as at border crossings with Chile.