Authorities in Bolivia have arrested a major player in the Castedo Clan, one of the most powerful drug trafficking clans in northern Argentina, but it is unlikely this will cripple the organization just yet.
Members of Bolivia’s anti-narcotics squad (Fuerza Especial de Lucha Contra el Narcotráfico -- FELCN) arrested Mario Morfulis Herrera of Argentina’s Castedo Clan in the town of Yacuíba in southern Bolivia in mid-January. He was then handed over to authorities in Argentina, the National Gendarmerie announced in a January 22 press release.
Morfulis Herrera is the brother-in-law of Delfín Castedo, considered by authorities to be one of Argentina’s most prominent drug traffickers. Delfín headed the Castedo Clan before he was arrested in July 2016 on drug trafficking charges after years on the run.
The group has allegedly held a monopoly on cocaine trafficking in northern Argentina across two decades, according to La Nación. Castedo’s sister, Roxana -- who is married to Morfulis Herrera -- owned some 20,000 hectares of land in Bolivia, while the clan had another 30,000 hectares of land under their control in northern Argentina.
In 2016, authorities reported that the network trafficked four metric tons of cocaine per month from Bolivia to Europe.
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After cocaine shipments entered Argentina from Bolivia, according to La Nación, they left Quitilipi in northeast Chaco province disguised in charcoal shipments, then arrived at the ports of Rosario and Zárate before being shipped to Spain and Portugal.
Morfulis Herrera is a dual Bolivian-Argentine citizen and lived in Yacuíba, which made him one of the main pillars of the Castedo Clan’s cocaine trafficking operations in Bolivia.
The Castedo Clan has suffered a series of blows in recent years. Delfín’s brother, Raúl Castedo, alias “Ula,” was arrested a decade ago in Bolivia and was later extradited to Argentina in 2016. He had well-established contacts in Santa Cruz de la Sierra in eastern Bolivia, one of the country’s most important coca base-producing areas and where the group would acquire its product, according to La Nación.
Two of Delfín’s other brothers, Rafael and Roberto, are also in jail on charges of belonging to a criminal organization.
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Authorities have arrested several high-ranking members of the Castedo Clan over the years, but the group has continued to find a way to operate, and the most recent arrest of Morfulis Herrera is unlikely to be the final blow that dismantles it altogether.
One explanation for this is the fact that the clan has appeared to have sole control of nearly every link in the drug trafficking chain in northern Argentina for the better part of the last 20 years, according to authorities.
Delfín Castedo’s sister, Roxana, still reportedly owns large swaths of strategic territory on the Bolivian side of the Argentina-Bolivia border.
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The Castedo Clan seems to be much more established and sophisticated than other transnational groups in the country. These types of groups in Argentina have traditionally been localized, cross-border structures that would move drugs into Argentina and then sell them off to other groups who had the know-how to ship them to international markets.
In addition, the Castedo Clan has been able to recover from previous arrests, and its leaders appear to have succeeded in managing drug operations from behind bars.
In that regard, the Castedo Clan strongly resembles the infamous Monos trafficking group, which continues to rule over large parts of the major port city of Rosario's microtrafficking landscape even after a historic trial resulted in convictions and prison time for several of its top members. These groups are a reminder of growing warnings that government control may be fading behind prisons across the country.