A cocaine processing laboratory has been discovered in Argentina's Patagonia region, an illustration of the increasing spread of the drug trade in the country and the shifting dynamics of that country's underworld.
Police in the city Comodoro Rivadavia discovered the "cocaine kitchen" during a raid of various houses and nightclubs, which followed a three-month investigation, reported La Nacion. Precursor chemicals and equipment for purifying coca paste -- a substance made from coca leaves in a first-step rudimentary process that typically takes place alongside the crops -- were found. Six people were arrested. According to state news agency Telam, the drugs had come from Bolivia and were destined to be sold mostly to oil workers.
It is the first time such cocaine processing has been detected in Patagonia, a region shared by Argentina and Chile, which takes in various Argentine provinces in the south of the country. Around 40 kilos of cocaine and $16,000 were seized, along with some luxury vehicles, reported Diario Cronica.
InSight Crime Analysis
While this does not appear to be a large-scale laboratory, the fact it was converting coca paste into cocaine indicated a level of sophisticated knowledge and equipment. The location is also noteworthy -- in the south of the country, far from Buenos Aires and Rosario, a northern city which is known to be a hub of Argentina's drug trade.
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The discovery suggests that cocaine production, as well as distribution, is spreading across Argentina. Laboratories have been discovered in Buenos Aires province and Rosario is Latin America's second-largest market for cocaine, accounting for 25 per cent of the region's cocaine use.
What is not clear is who is controlling the trade, and why it has become more economic (and perhaps safer) for that group to push cocaine processing into Argentina. The country has long been a base and safe haven for Colombian and Mexican drug traffickers, but there are signs homegrown criminals are taking a more prominent role. Last month, a major Argentina drug trafficker was caught by authorities while in September an Argentine family was accused of running the country's biggest ever drug lab.