A remote stretch of forest in the north of Argentina was used to conceal a marijuana plantation, pointing to new dynamics in the Tri-Border area as criminal groups in Paraguay try to circumvent increasing controls.
On April 11, Argentina’s Coast Guard (Prefectura Naval) uncovered 1,800 marijuana plants in the northern province of Misiones, according to an official press release.
Judicial sources who spoke to La Nación about the discovery said traffickers from Paraguay are likely "testing" ("prueba piloto") marijuana cultivation on the Argentine side of the border as a way to avoid stricter border controls.
Misiones Province -- located on the Tri-Border area where Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina meet -- is a hotspot for marijuana trafficking from Paraguay, South America's largest cultivator of cannabis. It is situated along the Paraná River, which continues on to the capital Buenos Aires -- the main market for the drug. The river also runs on into the Atlantic Ocean, where shipping ports are used to smuggle drugs to Europe.
InSight Crime Analysis
It is plausible that the marijuana was planted by criminal groups from Paraguay, which might be using the site as a testing ground to avoid moving the drug through increasingly strict border controls.
Authorities in Argentina have recently homed in on marijuana trafficking at the northern border with Paraguay, particularly in Misiones.
Last year, 126 metric tons of marijuana was seized in Misiones, nearly 70 perfect of the total amount captured by authorities in Argentina, Clarín reported. In the Puerto Libertad municipality alone, the coast guard seized 34 tons of marijuana in the first half of last year. This represents an increase of 221 percent compared to the same time during 2017.
Meanwhile earlier this year, authorities took down a band of drug traffickers as they transported 1,000 kilograms of marijuana in the Paraná River, La Nación reported.
Argentina seems to also be attempting to tackle the entrenched corruption that has allowed the drug trade to flourish in the area.
In March 2017, the mayor, vice mayor and police chief of the city of Itatí, along the Paraná River, were arrested in a massive security operation.
The mayor and vice mayor, who allegedly financed their campaigns with drug money, were accused of coordinating with a local drug lord to move marijuana. The mayor also had the police chief release two drug traffickers from jail.
More recently, a member of Argentina’s coast guard was arrested in connection to a 10-ton shipment of marijuana in the city of Ituzaingó in northeast Corrientes.
In fact, so many marijuana traffickers have been arrested in Misiones recently that the jails have run out of space to hold them all.
The size of the marijuana seizures and massive number of arrests show that drug traffickers are willing to take chances to reach Argentina’s growing consumer drug marker.
The recent discovery of the some 1,800 marijuana plants on Argentine soil along the border is likely another trial balloon.