Argentina has arrested a fugitive thought to be a major player in trafficking cocaine to Europe, shedding light on the country's continued role in the international drug trade.
Reinaldo Delfín Castedo was arrested on July 22 by the Argentine Gendarmerie in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Parque Leloir after years on the run, La Nación reported.
Along with his jailed brother Raúl, alias "Ula," Reinaldo Castedo allegedly ran a network that trafficked up to 4 metric tons of cocaine a month from Bolivia to Europe.
The organization allegedly controlled the movement of cocaine from Gran Chaco province, Bolivia, into Argentina's Salta province. They allegedly camouflaged the drugs in shipments of charcoal and smuggled them into Barranqueras port before shipping them to Spain or Italy. Castedo's network formed alliances with Bolivian and Colombian drug traffickers, and used its criminal earnings to buy properties in the border region to facilitate their smuggling operations, according to intelligence reports accessed by Clarín.
The case against Castedo includes alleged responsibility in the murder of Salta resident Liliana Ledesma, who had publicly denounced drug traffickers for operating in the border area with the help of crooked politicians. Castedo's organization was later connected to the "White Charcoal" case, in which authorities seized more than a ton of cocaine that was headed from Argentina to Europe disguised as charcoal, leading in 2012 to what was dubbed the biggest drug trafficking trial in Argentine history.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Criminal Migration
Castedo had judicial as well as political alliances, and is believed to have paid jailed federal judge Raúl Reynoso for protection. Reynoso worked in Orán department, Salta, before his arrest in May 2016 amid allegations that he took bribes from prisoners in exchange for preferential treatment.
It would seem that Castedo's ability to evade enforcement for so many years was due both to his habit of instilling fear -- as demonstrated by Ledesma's murder -- and to support among the local community gained by providing jobs.
Authorities had been tracking Castedo by monitoring phone calls for three months before his capture.
— Patricia Bullrich (@PatoBullrich) July 22, 2016
From the Twitter account of Argentina's Security Minister
InSight Crime Analysis
When the "White Charcoal" case came to light, it confirmed the evolution of Argentine criminal groups into full-fledged players in international drug trafficking. The now dismantled group, led by Castedo's former lawyer Carlos Salvatore, not only managed activities in South America but also transported the cocaine to Spain, where they distributed the product.
La Nacion report said that Castedo was still in business, and authorities said an associate of his recently attempted to displace a group of small farmers from some land along the border, an apparent attempt to facilitate the importation of drugs.
Although Argentine officials have denied that homegrown cartels exist in the country, Castedo's continued operation indicates the country plays an important role in the drug trade. Some observers have warned of the threat of violent crime if local drug organizations increase their influence and power.