Argentina reportedly seized over 700 tons of precursor chemicals used in drug production during the first seven months of 2016, a clear sign that authorities are taking steps to clamp down on this illicit industry.
The seizures made by Argentine authorities between January and July of this year represent a record haul, outstripping the previous annual average of around 100 tons by a factor of seven, according to La Nación.
La Nación noted that some of the seizures have stemmed from judicial investigations, such as the 80 tons of sodium bicarbonate -- a chemical used to produce cocaine -- found near the border with Bolivia in late July. Authorities have also increased their monitoring of known trafficking routes, which enabled them to confiscate more than 90 tons of precursors last month that were being smuggled through the province of Santa Fe.
The strengthened interdiction efforts coincide with structural changes in Argentina's drug precursor interdiction strategy. Oversight of the National Registry of Precursor Chemicals has switched from the country's anti-drug trafficking and drug addiction agency, known as SEDRONAR, to the Security Ministry, according to La Nación. The ministry is attempting to impose greater regulation on the circulation of precursor chemicals, which in addition to being used in illicit drug production are also used to make medicines and other legal products.
Security Minister Patricia Bullrich said her agency supports criminalizing "the illegal diversion of precursor chemicals and the supply of false information to the National Registry of Precursor Chemicals."
According to the US State Department's 2014 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, "Argentina is one of South America’s largest producers of precursor chemicals."
InSight Crime Analysis
The enormous difference between the amount of precursors confiscated so far in 2016 compared to previous years indicates the government's new interdiction policies are having their intended effect. In addition to the changes mentioned by La Nación, Cecilia Di Lodovico, an Argentine journalist who covers the illicit drug trade, told InSight Crime that prosecutors and specialists have been emphasizing to security officials "the importance of precursor chemicals in the drug elaboration process, and thus, in the functioning of drug trafficking organizations." She also noted that the security forces and judicial officials have received greater backing from the executive branch when it comes to tackling the issue of precursor chemical trafficking.
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The impressive results thus far provide a counterpoint to criticisms of the anti-drug strategy put forward by President Mauricio Macri, who took office last December. Macri has promised to be tougher on drug trafficking than his predecessor, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, but his militarized approach has raised concerns about a potential increase in human rights abuses by the security forces. The president recently launched a new security plan, ambitiously called "Argentina Without Drug Trafficking," which he says will help the country "win this war."