An Argentine province bordering Uruguay has become a transit hub for drug trafficking out of Paraguay, revealing a new route used to propel cocaine across the Southern Cone.
The latest news came when a plane suspected of being used to haul some 400 kilograms of cocaine from Paraguay to Uruguay was discovered in a hangar in Argentina's Entre Ríos province in late September, according to a news release from Argentina's Ministry of Security. The hangar, just outside the city of Concordia, was being used as a logistics aerial base for drug flights, officials said. Weapons and cash were also found during the operation.
A joint investigation by Argentina's anti-drug agency and Uruguay's air force uncovered the aerial drug route, in which planes departed from clandestine runways located in Paraguay before making stopovers in Entre Rios fields. From there, the aircraft took off for Uruguay.
Sources close to the case told La Nación that, “although the investigative hypothesis continues to be that the cocaine was destined for Uruguay, we cannot rule out the possibility that drugs have also ended up in Argentina on some trips.”
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The Gendarmerie then seized a second plane in San Pedro, located in the Buenos Aires province, also used by the transnational network.
The use of Entre Ríos as a trafficking link between Paraguay and Uruguay has been receiving increasing attention. In May, a drug trafficking gang was dismantled after operating between Entre Ríos and Argentina's city of Rosario, home to the country's most dangerous organized crime group, the Monos.
That same month, a truck was found in the province heading for Uruguay with 215 kilograms of cocaine on board, the largest seizure in Entre Ríos before the aforementioned drug flight.
And in July, one known drug trafficker was found to have been using Entre Ríos as a transport and distribution hub for cocaine that was sent to Europe through Buenos Aires.
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While this northeastern region of Argentina has long served as a key hub for the marijuana trade, its location has also made it attractive to traffickers seeking to use Uruguay as an exit point for cocaine headed to Europe.
Bordering Paraguay, Entre Ríos' neighboring province of Corrientes has been used as an entry point for Paraguayan marijuana shipments destined for Argentina's cities, such as Santa Fe or Buenos Aires. Just below Corrientes, Entre Ríos has now emerged as a hub for the cocaine trade.
The northwestern Salta province had previously been the preferred point of entry for cocaine transiting Route 34 from Bolivia to Argentine ports to be shipped to Europe. However, increased controls have forced drug trafficking groups to search for alternative routes, such as Entre Ríos.
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In 2017, then-Security Minister Patricia Bullrich warned that transnational criminal groups were taking advantage of Entre Ríos' strategic location to transport cocaine shipments to Uruguay and then on to Europe.
A common practice for moving cocaine aerially in Argentina is to drop the drugs from moving planes. Other northern provinces reported, such as Tucumán and Santiago del Estero, have been used as drop points, but those planes are most likely to come from Bolivia.