Fifteen days of a major embarrassment for the government of Argentine president Mauricio Macri came to an end on Monday after police commandos recaptured two of the country's most notorious convicts in a rice mill plant, ending a 15-day manhunt through backwater towns and two provinces.
Victor Schillaci and brothers Martin and Cristian Lanatta, who are convicted of drugs-related killings, escaped from a top security jail on Dec. 27 in a prison break that raised concerns about how corrupt the system is, apparently financed by drug bosses who have infiltrated political circles and the security forces.
Crack police nabbed Martin Lanatta on Saturday, but his brother and Schillaci slipped through the dragnet, heaping embarrassment on President Mauricio Macri who had publicly celebrated the capture of all three only two days before.
They were finally cornered near the farming town of Cayasta in the province of Santa Fe, 570 km north of the capital Buenos Aires, and appeared to have surrendered without a struggle.
In Santa Fe, Security Minister Patricia Bullrich said their capture marked the start of the new government's investigation into the ties of organized crime. The Buenos Aires province police which is the largest force and best equipped of Argentina supposedly was able to sporadically track the fugitives but never pinned them down.
This is just the beginning of a task which will take us many years, Bullrich told a news conference. Our responsibility is to look into these networks of complicity within politics, the judiciary, and security forces; the huge black holes of active and passive conspiracy, which includes not only helping those in the run but passing on deliberate false and fabricated information.
The 15-day hunt had gripped the Argentine nation and news that it is over will ease pressure on Macri, who was left red faced after false information led officials to announce the search was over while two of the men remained on the loose.
The whole system is rotten and the worst scenario is the province of Buenos Aires, Argentina's largest and richest, blasted Macri. Institutional decadence together with the non functioning of the government branches has allowed the drugs cartels to advance as never before in Argentina. It's very easy when the state is absent, to take advantage of a huge gap.
Macri went on to say that those who preach about the importance of the State have dedicated time and efforts to disarticulate it. Without any internal procedures, protocols or electronic background, it's really hard to get hold of the information.
However this is only the beginning, it's not enough winning elections, the inaction or even complicity of the former government with drug traffickers is scandalous.
There are mafia organized sectors and groupings in the Buenos Aires province very much concerned because the governor, Maria Eugenia Vidal is cutting corruption and funds; this has them nervous. In effect, the three fellows on the run didn't feel safe at the high security prison and thus with some money, not much, managed to escape underlined Macri.
The three men were serving life sentences for the 2008 killing of three businessmen in the pharmaceutical industry, allegedly linked to an ephedrine trafficking gang. The high-profile case was dubbed The triple murder.
Ephedrine is used for the production of methamphetamine.
The search has focused attention on the growing muscle of drug gangs in Argentina, which drug-enforcement officials say has become an increasingly important transit point for the smuggling of South American drugs to Europe and the Americas.
Prosecutors said they had launched an investigation into whether narco gangs helped the three men in their prison break.
Security minister Bullrich congratulated the federal and provincial forces which led the manhunt and assured the national government “will investigate the complicity links” which allowed the convicted to escape from a high security prison in General Alvear.
“We have gone through hard and complicated days,” the national official said adding “we have an enemy infiltrating everywhere.” We don’t want drug trafficking to manage power or government branches” the minister warned.
The Buenos Aires province police with its almost 60.000 members is far the largest organization in arms in Argentina. The Argentine Army has 35.000 members.