The latest drug raid in a border town in Argentina resulted in the arrest of the mayor and several other top municipal officials, uncovering a level of corruption rarely seen in this Southern Cone nation.
On March 14, 600 members of Argentina's gendarmerie descended upon the town of Itatí, arresting mayor Natividad "Roger" Terán, his top deputy and a local police chief, reported La Nación. Authorities say the officials abused their posts to help move drug shipments through the northern border town, which has long been considered a gateway for marijuana coming from Paraguay.
"The mayor Terán, vice mayor [Fabio] Aquino and the commissioner [Diego] Ocampo Alvarenga, used their positions to facilitate and protect the trafficking of marijuana," a source close to the case told La Nación.
The operation led to a total of 21 arrests, including several other police officials, and authorities are seeking the arrest of 14 other suspects.
Two witnesses testified that the drug network moved up to six tons of marijuana through Itatí per week, reported Clarín. They also testified that the mayor and the vice mayor were directly involved in acquiring and distributing the marijuana, as well as laundering the illicit proceeds.
In February, authorities arrested the vice mayor's brother along with four other suspects and seized over 500 kilos of cannabis. The mayor's daughter had been arrested earlier that month, prompting Security Minister Patricia Bullrich to declare, "Itatí was run by narco-politics."
InSight Crime Analysis
The raid in Itatí exemplifies a pattern seen throughout Latin America of mayors increasingly facilitating or directly involved in organized crime activity. But while corruption in city hall appears to be on the rise in countries like Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico, until now there has been little evidence of this phenomenon in Argentina.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Argentina
The question now becomes whether the Itatí case is an outlier or points to deeper shifts in Argentina's criminal dynamics. On the one hand, Itatí's location made it a logical entry point for Paraguayan marijuana, suggesting the level of criminal penetration in the municipal offices was partly determined by the town's geography.
On the other, however, judicial officials and the public have expressed concern about the growth of drug trafficking in the country, and President Mauricio Macri has responded by militarizing the fight against organized crime. Even Pope Francis, a native of Argentina, has warned about the potential "Mexicanization" of the country's criminal landscape.