Argentina's former vice-president and current governor of Buenos Aires province has called drug trafficking the country's "number one public enemy," recognizing an increasing and evolving issue that is bringing heightened levels of violence.
According to Governor Daniel Scioli, speaking to La Nacion, drug gangs' ability to shift operations to new areas in the face of security force initiatives is one of several major headaches for authorities.
"You hit them here and they move," Scioli said, referring specifically to groups from Buenos Aires that have migrated to the northeastern city of Rosario, one of the epicenters of the drug trade and its associated violence. He said Buenos Aires was not currently experiencing the same kinds of drug-related problems afflicting Rosario, which saw record homicides last year
Scioli also described synthetic drug production as one of Argentina's rising challenges. When asked about the presence of foreign cartels, he said there were "branches" in the country, but that "one cannot speak of the cartels [as such]."
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There is an increasing awareness of the dangers now posed by drug trafficking. In response to Rosario's growing violence, authorities mounted a major security force initiative in the city earlier this month. This was aimed principally at the local drug market and the distribution points known as "bunkers." So far, officials have identified 67 such points, which are also hotspots for violence.
According to La Nacion, Rosario has been recognized by authorities as a cocaine production center since 2010.
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Argentina is an important transit point for cocaine shipments heading overseas, and also has South America's second-largest domestic market for the drug, after neighboring Brazil.
As foreign cartels have gained a more established foothold in the country, Argentina's drug trade has been evolving. Scioli is not the first official to recognize this, with the country's defense minister recently admitting Argentina had become a drug production center.
Rosario is perhaps the city that best exemplifies the development of the domestic drug trade, which has sparked an explosion of violence, as gangs -- some of whom display sophisticated structures and tactics -- fight for control of local drug sales.
There are other signs of this unfolding trend elsewhere as well. The western city of Mendoza is home to a violent drug clan with significant local power, while in Buenos Aires, authorities have found various cocaine and ecstasy labs.