Argentine Gendarmerie Seizes Drugs Hidden in Wood Shipments

By Rafael Andrade/Diálogo
March 24, 2022

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In recent months, experts have warned of the close relationship between drug trafficking and the illegal timber trade in South America, a reality increasingly visible in Argentina. Of the three major drug seizures made by the Argentine National Gendarmerie in February 2022, two involved marijuana concealed in wooden shipments.

On February 17, gendarmes on patrol in the vicinity of Puerto Avellaneda, province of Misiones, detected a suspicious truck circulating in the area. Upon noticing the presence of uniformed personnel, the driver jumped from the vehicle, which continued to roll and crashed into a hill a few meters away.

“Officials saw at first glance a large number of wooden planks, which gave off a strong smell typical of marijuana,” the gendarmerie said in a statement. In total, authorities seized 1,507 packages containing 1,002 kilograms of cannabis sativa hidden in the wood shipment.

Gendarmes seized a truck carrying 1 ton of marijuana hidden among wooden beams on February 17, 2022. (Photo: Argentine National Gendarmerie)

On February 1, gendarmes intercepted a truck carrying more than 3 tons of marijuana hidden between wooden beams. The truck was traveling along Provincial Route 17, near the town of Nueve de Julio, in the province of Buenos Aires. Members of Eldorado 10 Squadron intercepted the vehicle with support from the Complex Crimes Investigations and Forensics Unit.

“Officials saw at first glance a large shipment of wood, but the anti-narcotics sniffer dog ‘Vera’ confirmed the presence of narcotics,” the gendarmerie said. During the search of the truck, authorities found 3,348 kg of marijuana in rectangular packages under the wood.

Drug trafficking and the environment

The seizures in Argentina illustrate a trend already seen in the Amazon, where traffickers are using illegal timber to smuggle cocaine and marijuana. “[There is a] growing overlap between the routes taken by drug trafficking groups and those involved in environmental crimes,” InSight Crime, an organization specializing in organized crime in Latin America, said in a late 2021 report.

“Environmental crime could serve as a new revenue stream for drug traffickers, with evidence indicating that cargo shipments from the rainforest are being used to conceal drug smuggling to overseas markets,” InSight Crime said.

Wood inspection

As gendarmes seized drugs concealed in timber shipments in Argentina, security experts gathered in Brazil, February 7-11, for a course on timber inspection, offered by the United Nations Office United on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

The event was held at the Environmental Police Integration and Improvement Center, a base of the Brazilian Federal Police (PF, in Portuguese) in the heart of the Amazon rainforest. Thirty federal police officers and representatives from Colombia, Spain, France, the Netherlands, Panama, Paraguay, Portugal and the United States participated in the event.

“The objective of the training was to strengthen a network of police and customs officers from tropical timber importing and exporting countries to improve environmental governance,” UNODC said.

According to Interpol, organized crime groups earn up to $150 billion a year from illegal logging, the UNODC said. “Forest crimes are also closely linked to drug and arms trafficking and human rights abuses,” UNODC concluded.

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