Berni takes over drug trafficking duties
Sedronar agency to focus solely on drug addiction and prevention under Juan Carlos Molina
In the midst of political debate about whether the military should be involved in the fight against drug trafficking, Security Secretary Sergio Berni, a military officer on leave known for a tough-on-crime stance, was formally handed the reins of the country’s battle against the narcotics trade.
President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner ordered the formal shift in a decree published yesterday, in which the purview over the battle against traffickers was taken away from the Sedronar anti-drug agency and handed to the Security Secretariat.
The move came a day after Buenos Aires Governor Daniel Scioli suggested re-discussing the role of the military in fighting trafficking, leading Buenos Aires City Mayor Mauricio Macri, the leader of the centre-right opposition party PRO, to express his support for the idea.
Yet even as Macri said he agreed that the role of the military needs to be discussed, Defence Minister Agustín Rossi made it clear he was not only against the idea personally but that the point was moot anyway because it is against the law.
Rossi was quick to point out yesterday that the National Defence Law prevents the Armed Forces from taking part in any kind of domestict activity and he made it clear that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was not planning to reopen the debate on the issue.
The strategy of dividing the agencies in charge of drug use and drug trafficking had been expected. Ever since Father Juan Carlos Molina was appointed to lead the Sedronar, it was clear that the government saw him as someone who could help improve the way the country assists addicts, as well as improve drug-prevention programmes.
The increased scourge of trafficking has taken the spotlight in recent months as both the Catholic Church and then the Supreme Court have called on the government to boost its fight against drug crime.
Sedronar was in the eye of the storm last week, after Molina complained that he had found the agency in a “critical” state of disarray when he took over.
Berni has yet to publicly refer to his new duty as he continues gathering power and responsibilities that essentially give him more power than Security Minister María Cecilia Rodríguez, a political scientist that has long worked alongside Berni.
Sedronar once had three different functions: to create policies to prevent addiction, to assist people affected by addiction and to combat drug trafficking.
From now on this third function will from now on be a responsibility of the Security Secretary. That decision was yesterday celebrated by the state agency headed by Molina.
“Everything related to fighting against drug trafficking will be now under the responsibility of the Security Ministry, that’s why Sedronar will now have a new line of action,” Molina said during a conference in Mendoza province.
“Now we are going to talk about inclusion, of rights and of having our children out from the streets and granting a good life project for them,” the priest who has close ties to the president as well as her sister-in-law, Social Development Minister Alicia Kirchner, said.
On Thursday, Scioli’s elusive words reignited a discussion: whether the Armed Forces should take part or not in the fight against drug trafficking. Since the return of democracy to the country, there has been a consensus that the military could not take part in any case involving domestic policy.
The issue became a heated debate during the campaign during the talk of shooting down drug planes was suggested during the midterm campaign by Sergio Massa’s Renewal Front and by Francisco de Narváez. Then, Scioli said that the discussion should be reopened.
Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri also backed Scioli’s proposal.
“There is a need to involve the Armed Forces in the struggle,” Macri said, after highlighting that drug trafficking is one of the issues that most worries him.
The official response was clear. Yesterday, Rossi explained that the Kirchnerite administration had no plans of re-discussing the role of the Armed Forces in domestic issues, which would lead to several complaints from human rights organizations.
The man in charge
Though the Kirchnerite administration said that the Armed Forces will not be involved in fighting drug trafficking, a man with a military past such as Berni will be leading the strategy to confront drug traffickers.
In that sense, Argentina appears to be pursuing a strategy reminiscent of some of its neighbours in the region that treat addiction with a soft hand — seeing it more as a disease rather than a crime — while taking a hard stance on crime.
Berni is no stranger to dealing with drug crime. Last year, he was the one who met the members of the Supreme Court when they expressed their concern over the trafficking problems in the country’s northern provinces. After holding a meeting with Berni in September, the justices, who were irritated that the expected changes were never implemented, issued a resolution in November urging the government to take the necessary measures to fight drug trafficking in Tucumán, Salta and Jujuy provinces.
A few days before the justices issued their resolution, the Argentine Episcopal Conference expressed its concern for the widespread drug trafficking in the country, even comparing the situation with the one lived in countries such as Mexico or Colombia.
Following Father Molina’s appointment, the Church changed its tone and celebrated his designation. Molina will have now to deal with what he reported as a near-abandoned substance registry.
Earlier in the week, Molina sealed an agreement with Industry Minister Débora Giorgi to update the National Register of Chemical Precursors, which monitors and authorizes companies to use substance that are otherwise used in the production of illicit drugs.