Argentina’s New Drug Trafficking Innovation: ‘Narco-Ambulances’
by Victoria Dittmar
Twice in less than 40 days, authorities in Argentina have found marijuana hidden in ambulances, illustrating the creativity with which drug traffickers are attempting to slip under the radar.
Eighty-five kilograms of marijuana were found on May 24 in a government emergency services ambulance from the Argentine province of Formosa when it was transporting an injured girl to Buenos Aires. The two drivers were arrested.
Earlier, on April 12, three so-called “narco-paramedics” were arrested after an eight-month investigation found that they had been making regular deliveries of marijuana from the city of Corrientes to the cities of Santa Fe and Rosario, also by ambulance. The vehicle impounded during the operation was transporting not only a fake patient but also 400 kilograms of marijuana in a hidden compartment.
In an interview with La Nación, an officer in the Argentine National Gendarmerie explained that the drivers turned on their flashing lights and sirens to get through checkpoints without being stopped by the authorities, who are supposed to give them priority for the apparent medical emergency.
“Most of the officers don’t stop them. Imagine, who would want the possible death of a patient they’re transporting on their conscience?” the official told La Nación.
La Nación reported that, a similar case had occurred in 2016, when a false ambulance was used for five months to transport marijuana on several routes between Argentina and Paraguay, South America’s main marijuana producer.
Buenos Aires has also seen cases of ambulances being used to distribute marijuana directly to people’s homes.
InSight Crime Analysis
Drug traffickers constantly seek new methods to evade authorities whose own tactics are continuously evolving.
In the case of Argentina’s “drug-ambulances,” the traffickers found an advantage in not being stopped by authorities if they pretend there is an emergency, including when crossing the country’s borders. Plus, as the two more recent cases show, the participation of actual medical personnel further aids criminal gangs in going unnoticed by authorities.
Argentine criminal groups demonstrated their creativity once again in February, when authorities discovered a cocaine trafficking network involving Russian embassy officials transporting drugs in their luggage.
Elsewhere in the region, drug traffickers have concocted clever plans to deliver their goods, such as in Mexico. Along the tightly monitored border with the United States, traffickers have used tactics such as tunnels, drones and even cannon to transport their drugs north.
In Colombia, cocaine has been camouflaged in shipments of fruit and other products intended for export throughout the Americas and to Europe.
Criminal groups at the local level have also gotten creative with concealing smaller-scale trafficking. In Mexico City, for example, authorities recently dismantled a gang that had been delivering marijuana to private homes using the food delivery service UberEATS.