Authorities in Argentina seized a massive 80-ton shipment of precursor chemicals used to make cocaine just meters from the Bolivian border, highlighting the nation's importance as a supplier in the region's illicit drug trade.
Members of Argentina's National Gendarmerie recently seized 77 tons of sodium bicarbonate in a house that served as a covert storage facility in the northern border city of Salvador Mazza, reported La Nación. Authorities later found seven more tons at a nearby depot located some 30 meters from the Bolivian frontier.
The area where the precursors were discovered is mostly poor, and many locals rely on smuggling contraband goods across the border to make a living, according to La Nación.
A Gendarmerie official said the bust "was an important blow" to drug trafficking in the area because it's rare for authorities to seize such a large amount of precursor chemicals.
Two Syrian nationals were also arrested, who authorities suspect of being major purveyors of precursors for cocaine laboratories in Bolivia, reported La Nación.
InSight Crime Analysis
The huge bust illustrates the key role Argentina plays in supplying the ingredients essential to producing cocaine. Authorities, for instance, seized over 65 tons of sodium bicarbonate in the same northern part of the country in 2013. Once the chemicals are used to transform coca leaves into cocaine in Bolivia, the drug sometimes moves back across the border into Argentina to supply that country's cocaine users. Some of the cocaine is shipped on to Europe, where prices and profit margins are much higher.
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In addition to cocaine, Argentina is a major supplier of precursor chemicals used to make synthetic drugs like methamphetamine. The country is considered a principal source of precursors for Mexican drug trafficking groups, including the Sinaloa Cartel. Large-scale synthetic drug busts suggest production is also increasing to keep up with the growing popularity of these drugs among late night party-goers.
Government corruption is often cited as enabling traffic in both classes of precursor chemicals to flourish. In the most recent case, a judge who had granted the Syrian nationals a legal injunction in 2010 was arrested this year on suspicion of having received bribes from alleged drug traffickers. And several high-level officials in the administration of former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (2007-2015) have been linked to traffickers of ephedrine, a precursor for making methamphetamine.