The latest drug to sweep the Argentinian market is Paco - a cocaine derivative. With Paco taking over the market with alarming ferocity, a group of women are taking on police and drug dealers with equanimity, risking all to save their drug-addled children.
They are vaguely reminiscent of another women's group, the "Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo" who demanded during weekly vigils that the government account for the whereabouts of sons and daughters who went missing during the country's "dirty war" of the 1970s and 1980s.
AdvertisementBut the "Mothers Against Paco" know all too well where their children have gone: some have died, some are in jail. All are victims of the Paco craze.
Every Thursday, the women come together to protest, their heads covered in black scarves, and say they will continue until President Cristina Kirchner listens to their pleas for stepped-up action against the rapacious drug.
Paco is Argentina's version of crack, the cheap cocaine-derivative that sowed misery in US cities in the 1980s.
The drug -- a mixture of cocaine paste, ground glass, kerosene, and an assortment of chemical products -- is also lethal: It attacks the central nervous system and can kill habitual users in less than six months.
Mothers Against Paco are in a frantic race to get their addicted children clean before the drug reaps its toll.
It first began to be seen throughout Buenos Aires about two years ago, as Argentina was mired in economic recession. The cost for a quick and intense high -- just five pesos (one euro/1.35 dollars) per hit -- fueled its quick rise in popularity.
But the euphoria lasts just a few minutes, prompting users to come back again and again. Addicts have been known to sell even their clothing to pay for the next hit of Paco.
The mothers are impassioned as they call for government action.
"The government should listen to us," said Ramona Jimenez, 35, from the shantytown Villa 31, close to downtown Buenos Aires.
"Do something!" she exclaimed. "We don't want any more wheel chairs in our homes," she said, referring to the drug's devastating effects.
Maria Rosa Gonzalez, 45, who lives in a shanty 15 kilometers (nine miles) from the center of Buenos Aires, traverses the country to denounce the scourge which now affects some 50,000 young people, according to official statistics.
"The government isn't doing anything" to crack down on the dealers, she said.
She is also pressing for the release of her Paco-addicted son Jose, 29, who she says was trying to kick his drug habit when he was taken away by police. Gonzalez said her life has been threatened on more than one occasion.
"Someone told me, 'one day your body is going to be found on the side of a road'."
But Mothers Against Paco provides safety in numbers, lending its moral support and protection, she said. When another activist, Father Jose Maria di Paola, a priest in Villa 21, another shantytown, received death threats for his efforts to fight the drugs, the group rallied some 2,000 protesters to support him.
The women have denounced government inaction in fighting Paco, and complain that the authorities are allowing the slums around Buenos Aires to become free zones of drug trafficking.
They proclaim their message on banner and placards. "No more drugs. Yes to life," reads one. "Paco equals domination and death," reads another.
But officials in Buenos Aires say the women are already preaching to the converted -- they would also like to eradicate the scourge of Paco.
"The task is so enormous that the (resources to combat it) don't suffice," said Jose Ramon Granero, head of the drug enforcement agency Sedronar.
"The problem is so serious that it requires concerted effort from all public agencies, which would allow us to wipe out this drug," Granero said.