The drug trade in northern Argentina has left more than a thousand dead in nine years, according to a report shedding light on the crime dynamics of a growing regional crime hub.
A study by the National University of Rosario found that the illegal drug trade in Argentina's third-largest city generated more than $370 million dollars a year and had caused a dramatic rise in homicides. Before 2004, there were no more than 70 murders in Rosario annually, whereas now the figure exceeded 160, said researchers, who spent eight months consulting official statistics, interviewing specialists and talking to people who live in the city. Almost all the murders were of men aged between 18 and 25.
Hundreds of "kiosks" selling drugs were allowed to operate by police, locals said, and youngsters could earn $55 a day guarding distribution points.
The study -- entitled "Lost Streets" -- claimed political efforts had been short-sighted and populist, targeting "weak links in the chain" such as street-level dealers instead of gang leaders, seizing drugs but ignoring supply routes, and allowing businesses to launder money unfettered.
The government of Santa Fe province, where Rosario is located, strongly refuted the allegations, claiming that according to official statistics, the area has only seen nine murders related to drug trafficking over an unspecified, one-year period, as La Nacion reports. "To talk of a drug war is a simplification and a gross exaggeration," said Matias Drivet, Santa Fe's Public Security Secretary.
InSight Crime Analysis
A primary entry point for cocaine into Argentina is the Ruta 34 highway which begins on the border with Bolivia and ends in Rosario. Given the rise in domestic demand for cocaine in recent years -- it is now the second-largest market in Latin America for the drug after Brazil, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime -- it is little surprise that drug-related crime and homicides in Rosario have also apparently risen, as groups battle for control of the profits.
Argentina is also an increasingly important jumping-off point for drugs travelling to West Africa and Europe. Drivet's claims that crime in Rosario is "similar to any other Argentine or Latin American city" seem to completely ignore this reality.