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Suspected Drug Traffickers Set Fire to Argentina Court

ARGENTINA / 14 OCT 2016 BY TRISTAN CLAVEL EN

A recent arson attack against an Argentine federal court famous for several high-profile drug cases may be the latest evidence of the deterioration of the country's organized crime situation.

Security camera recordings from October 13 show two unidentified suspects entering the Oral Federal Tribunal 3 (Tribunal Oral Federal 3) in the municipality of San Martín in Buenos Aires province, shortly before the fire department was alerted to a blaze in the building, reported the journal Hoy.

Authorities said the fire started in a rooftop office of the building, but that the most important damages were caused to the floor below, where the blaze burned court documents related to ongoing cases. The individuals acted early in the morning hours and no victims were reported.

16-10-14-Argentina-Arson-attackA note was found on the rooftop terrace made of glued letters cut from newspapers. According to several news outlets, the message read, "Leave San Martín, Vidal," which authorities assume was a threat towards the governor of Buenos Aires province, María Eugenia Vidal. The word "drug" and a picture of a gun also appeared on the note. (See photo to the right)

Buenos Aires province Security Minister Cristian Ritondo said he considered the incident a reaction by an unspecified drug trafficking organization to hard-line security policies impemented since President Mauricio Macri took office in December 2015, according to the news agency Télam.

The event also prompted the Public Ministry's representative Paul Starc to state that he was surprised by how far the suspects had gone with the plan, given that the court was guarded by members of the gendarmerie positioned inside the building and that there had never previously been an incident in which individuals set fire to a court.

The Oral Federal Tribunal 3 is famous for the high-profile drug cases tried there, such as those of Mario Segovia, the so-called "King of Ephredrine," and Jesús Martínez Espinoza, a suspected intermediary for the Sinaloa Cartel's activities in Argentina.

InSight Crime Analysis

This arson attack is the latest in a series of incidents that have prompted authorities to warn of an increase in drug-related activities in the country. Over the past few years, judiciary officials have raised the issue of Argentina's growing role in the drug trade, although the country has not suffered the extreme levels of violence seen in countries like Mexico or Colombia.

However, should the ongoing investigation prove that the intentional fire and the threatening message were indeed committed by drug traffickers, the bold move could indicate a strengthening of Argentine criminal organizations and their growing willingnes to frontally attack government institutions. The incident would also add to a series of red flags, such as increasing incidents of drug-related corruption, including within the security forces.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Security Policy

It is also possible that, as the Buenos Aires province security minister argued, the act could have been prompted by changes in the country's security policy since the arrival of President Mauricio Macri in office. The president has chosen to adopt a hardline stance against crime and has ramped up militarization in the fight against drug trafficking, which could fuel intense responses from criminals. The arsonists may also have targeted a key structure of the fight against crime, the judiciary, which has been taking an increasingly aggressive approach to targeting criminal organizations.

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