BUENOS AIRES, Feb. 19 (UPI) -- Argentina's political elite are caught up in a public row over contentions the country is becoming a transit point for narcotics smuggling from neighboring South American states to North America.
Argentina's alleged inaction toward the worsening narcotics situation surfaced during congressional confirmation hearings in Washington for U.S. President Barack Obama's nominee to become ambassador to Argentina, Noah Mamet.
As a domestic debate over drug-trafficking in Argentina heats up, discussion has also shifted toward legalization of marijuana, the Buenos Aires Herald reported. Both opposition critics and news media say Argentina's drug problem has gone beyond use or abuse of marijuana.
Argentine Security Secretary Sergio Berni challenged assertions of Argentina's worsening drug outlook by another Cabinet member, Defense Minister Agustin Rossi, who said Argentina was not only a drug transit nation but also produced drugs.
"Argentina was a transit country, and now it's a consumption country, and more seriously still is that it's also one of production," Rossi said last week.
Berni responded, "The government's position is clear. The Republic of Argentina is not a drug-producing country."
The spat prompted opposition politicians to demand both ministers appear before Congress to clarify the drug-trafficking problem for Argentina's lawmakers and help work out a future strategy for combating drugs.
"Objectively speaking, Argentina does not produce drugs apart from the odd marijuana plant but on nothing like the scale of Paraguay or at least not detected until now," Berni said in comments reported by the Buenos Aires Herald.
He said "it is practically impossible to produce cocaine in Argentina, because neither the altitude nor the climate permit it."
Opposition lawmakers said Rossi had just admitted what they had been saying for the past 10 years. Government statistics show more than 12 areas involved with the production and trafficking of narcotics and synthetic drugs were identified last year.
Argentine politicians have been campaigning for a major rethink in Argentina's narcotics policy, almost on cue from developments in neighboring Uruguay, which recently legalized the growing, sale and smoking of marijuana.
After denying Argentina had become a drug producer, Berni told a radio interview he held a personal opinion that the whole chain of drug production, distribution and consumption needed reform.
Berni said he "would agree if the whole chain was decriminalized, from production to consumption."
He explained, "Decriminalizing consumption is not effective enough. This is a personal opinion, after a lot of experience and studying different models. The [United States] has the most protected borders and everything gets inside," Berni said.