Authorities in Argentina have hailed the record-high increase of drug seizures and arrests made since 2015 as a sign that their security strategy is working, but critics say that the fine print tells a very different story.
Argentina’s federal security forces arrested more than 64,000 people as part of nearly 60,000 counter-narcotics operations, representing a 147 percent increase between 2015 and 2018, according to official figures published by Perfil.
They also reported that the amount of cocaine seized doubled between 2015 and 2018. Seizures of marijuana increased 26 percent and of synthetic drugs, 144 percent during the same period, according to data reported by Clarín.
SEE MORE: Argentina News and Profile
Speaking at a press conference, Argentine Security Minister Patricia Bullrich said that the figures illustrate the use of “better investigative techniques” and the deployment of “more professional federal security forces.”
InSight Crime Analysis
Although authorities in Argentina were quick to say that the increase in drug seizures and arrests translates into gains against criminal organizations, a closer look at the figures unveils a not-so-positive picture.
Most of the arrests included in the latest statistics seem to have been made under Argentina’s Narcotics Law, which targets large drug dealers and small consumers alike.
The law is so controversial that is due to be debated in Congress. Critics argue it goes against a 2009 Supreme Court ruling saying that criminalizing drug possession for personal use is unconstitutional since it goes against a number of rights, including the right to privacy.
Drug violations are currently the second most common crime for people held in prison in Argentina, according to official data, and they have increased at a higher rate than any other crime since President Mauricio Macri took office in 2015.
During a speech in Congress in October 2018, Security Minister Patricia Bullrich said that 36 percent of drug-related arrests made in 2017 were linked to personal use of drugs.
“The vast majority of cases [reflected in the latest figures] are related to personal drug use, micro-trafficking, and women coerced to transport drugs. When you take all those out of the equation, the number of cases that are actually related to large-scale drug trafficking organizations is around three percent. And those are only cases under investigation, we are not even talking about sentences,” Mariano Fusero, President of Reset, an organization that studies drug policies in Argentina, told InSight Crime.
Since taking office in 2015, President Mauricio Macri made the fight against corruption and organized crime a priority for his administration.
To be sure, criminal groups in Argentina seem to have expanded and become more sophisticated in their operations over recent years and the Macri administration has taken some valuable steps to help bring members of some large criminal organizations to justice.
However, they have been criticized for focusing strongly on small-time organizations, including when it comes to drug seizures.
One of the best ways to evaluate the real impact of the increase in drug seizures, given the lack of information regarding the real size of an illegal market, is by looking at how it affects demand.
According to data from the latest official survey in Argentina, marijuana consumption increased by 150 percent while cocaine consumption doubled in 2017.
“If there was less availability of drugs, there would be less consumption. If demand increases it is because the offer has increased to meet that demand,” Fusero said.