Authorities in Argentina have seized over $13 million in black market merchandise during 2014, highlighting the operations of so-called "buyers' caravans" that bring contraband from Bolivia to supply the Buenos Aires market.
According to an unidentified official interviewed by La Nacion, the contraband products enter Argentina through Aguas Blancas, a town in the Salta province on the Bolivian border. The "paseros," or couriers, charge around $30 for each load they carry into Argentina on their shoulders -- which is then loaded onto buses, trucks and utility vehicles. They can make up to four trips a day.
The products include clothes, shoes, leather goods, toys, kitchen items and electronics. A source from Argentina's Gendarmerie told La Nacion that the couriers did not include drugs in their loads, and had agreed amongst themselves not to work with drug trafficking groups.
To combat the phenomenon, authorities have set up a number of randomized check points. Their efforts led to the seizure of $13.4 million worth of goods between January 24 and July 15.
However, the contraband organizations have created a "by-pass" route so that couriers can avoid border controls. They have also resorted to changing their mode of transport, sending product-free cars to scout out the territory before moving the shipments, and using alternative routes to reach Buenos Aires, where the products are sold in the La Salada market -- a hub of piracy and contraband.
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Salta is not only a hotbed for the movement of contraband from Bolivia, but also of drugs -- according to one official, in 2011 20 percent of cocaine brought into Argentina entered via Aguas Blancas. Between 2006 and 2012, the illegal flow of products through Aguas Blancas rose by about 200 percent, according to official sources cite by La Tribuna.
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Given the overlap in cocaine and contraband trafficking through the region, it is surprising that the caravans mentioned by La Nacion do not carry drugs. A 2011 article from La Nacion appears to contradict this, stating that couriers moving contraband from Bolivia include cocaine in their loads.
Bolivian contraband runners typically play a key role in moving products across the border, according to La Tribuna. They also appear to be helping run things on the Argentine side -- according to La Razon, Bolivians are the principal merchants in the La Salada market.
A similar operation to the Argentine one also exists in the northern border region, where smugglers operate in a caravan called the "Snake of the North," which carries contraband through Bolivia and into Peru.