Argentina’s Presidential Hopefuls Aim to Further Militarize Drug War

Eighty percent of Argentineans believe illegal drugs are a "serious problem" in the country
Eighty percent of Argentineans believe illegal drugs are a “serious problem” in the country. (Pixabay)

EspañolNarco-trafficking has become a key issue in this year’s presidential race in Argentina, and the top three candidates — Sergio Massa, Mauricio Macri, and Daniel Scioli — all agree on one thing: an increased role for state security forces to fight the war on drugs.

Various experts and intellectuals, however, say the current discourse is riddled with “assumptions, intuition, and improvisation” and are calling for the candidates to have a “serious debate” on drug policy.

Over 100 scholars have signed and released a document posted on the website The Drug Issue in Argentina, in which they warn that the country’s current policy on drugs will worsen the problem over time.

“We are solely motivated by the conviction that it’s time to seriously address the issue. Denial or misrepresentation only encourages those who have a biased agenda based on fear, ignorance, and pomposity, intent on establishing a warfare approach that would give the armed forces a leading role, running afoul of the law,” the press release published on September 16 states.

The document claims that many of the social ills associated with drug trafficking, including extreme violence, corruption, and the undermining of state institutions, are the result of a “failed, repressive” policy.

The authors suggest that militarizing the fight against drugs will only lead to abuses and increased homicides rates, as seen in Mexico over the last decade.

In 2006, then Mexican President Felipe Calderón launched a federal offensive against drug trafficking. Six years later, the death toll stood at 60,000 people, and another 26,000 missing.

“Countries in the region that have called upon the military to face the problem show a dubious record in controlling the supply of drugs,” the authors affirm. What it has proved is that the strategy “invariably leads to a rise in levels of corruption, violence, and disrespect for human rights.”

Argentina’s Drug Czars 

In the lead up to the October 25 presidential election, opposition candidate Sergio Massa has led the charge in demanding tougher anti-drug policies.

Massa is a progressive Peronist, like President Cristina Kirchner, but parted ways with the administration in 2009. His proposals include laws authorizing the military to shoot down planes that transport drugs, occupy poor neighborhoods, and use the army to target cartels.

During a visit to an impoverished Buenos Aires suburb, he called drug trafficking a “national security risk,” and envisioned a comprehensive security program to tackle the issue with the police and the army.

He promised to recover the territory “currently held by drug traffickers.”

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Mauricio Macri, the leading opposition candidate for the Let’s Change coalition, has also placed illegal drug trafficking at the center of his platform.

During a campaign event earlier this month, Macri said that if elected, defeating narco-trafficking would be one of his three major challenges.

“It’s putting our culture, our families at risk. It is also corrupting our institutions, buying politicians, judges, police officers, and officials, and it must be stopped,” he said. “We will be the first government to address this issue directly and battle it from the first day.”

His drug-policy advisor, Eugenio Burzaco, is the coauthor of the book Narco Power, which makes the argument that a “comprehensive re-engineering” of national security is necessary.

Macri, like Massa, favors shooting down planes suspected of carrying illegal drugs.

As for Daniel Scioli, the ruling-coalition candidate and governor of the Buenos Aires province since 2007, he wants to create a local police force to target the retail drug trade.

He has also promised to triple, over a four-year period, the number of officers enlisted in the national police and the navy patrol, as well as to form a militarized urban squad.

Last year, Scioli suggested the government should reassess the role of the army regarding drug trade, “because it’s evidently a homeland security problem.”

Current Argentinean law prohibits the armed forces from addressing common crimes, except when “the president deems that the interior security system is not enough.”

Furthermore, all three major candidates agree on the need for the creation of a new federal agency to investigate drug crimes.

Alarmed Population

Macri and Massa also say that Argentina has gone from being a country where illegal drugs are merely trafficked through, to one that both produces and consumes them.

However, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Argentina is still not recognized as a producer country.

“[B]razil (particularly since 2010) and Argentina are the cocaine transit countries most frequently mentioned in major individual drug seizures,” the 2015 World Drug Report states.

Even though Argentina’s weather is not ideal for coca leaf crops, and no coca plantations have ever been registered, the northern provinces’ proximity to Bolivia — one of the world’s largest cocaine producers — and Paraguay — South America’s main exporter of marijuana — have turned them into a fertile field for drug-trafficking activities.

Meanwhile, public awareness over drug use and illegal trafficking in the country is on the rise. The Catholic University of Argentina reports that between 2010 and 2014, public awareness of drug sales in Argentinean neighborhoods increased by 50 percent.

Further, a study by the Argentinean Business University shows that eight out of 10 Argentineans believe drug trafficking and drug abuse are a “serious problem” in the country. Of those surveyed, half recommend “harsher laws” to tackle the problem.

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