Former economy minister Axel Kicillof, the favourite to become the next governor of Buenos Aires Province, said Sunday night that some Argentines who participate in the selling and trafficking of drugs have been forced to do so after losing their jobs.
"There are more people who sell drugs because they ran out of work," he declared, pointing to the ongoing recession.
Kicillof, who served as a minister from 2013 to 2015, under the second administration led by former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, said in an interview Sunday that the authorities should "not persecute small consumers," saying the security forces and police should instead go for the "big fish."
Expanding on his views, he argued that rising unemployment levels had forced those out of work to involve themselves with illegal narcotics.
"From going to neighbourhoods I heard news that due to the drop in employment, there are people who [now] selling drugs," Kicillof said in an interview broadcast on the América TV channel, in which he criticised the policies of the national government.
Kicillof, 48, said that Catholic priests who worked in the Carlos Gardel barrio of El Palomar had told of individuals who had been forced into drug-trafficking in order to make ends meet. Argentina's unemployment rate has risen over the past year to stand at 10.6 percent, according to the most recent data published by the INDEC national statistics bureau.
"It is a crime but the problem is not to persecute the small consumer," he added.
The gubernatorial candidate was also quizzed about his views on legalising marijuana for medical use. Kicillof said that he was not sure if such a move would lower illegal trafficking, but said that "the legalisation of [marijuana for] medicinal use is good."
"It is necessary to work more in this direction [legalisation for medical use]. The capacity for implementation and organisation is needed," he said, saying the existing set up was "working badly."
Security Minister Patricia Bullrich, who leads the fight against drug-trafficking for the national administration, criticised the gubernatorial hopeful's remarks on Twitter, accusing the Frente de Todos candidate of seeking "to turn PBA [Buenos Aires Province] into a liberated zone."
"We put the narcos in jail!" she wrote, adding that "for four years we have stopped very heavy narcos [drug-traffickers] that the previous government allowed to settle in PBA to start their business."
"With his statement it seems that Kicillof seeks to turn the PBA into a liberated zone," she concluded.
Provincial Security Minister Cristian Ritondo echoed those words Monday, saying that "to be without work is a drama, but it doesn't turn you into a criminal."
Kicilof, trhe Frente de Todos candidate who emerged from August's PASO primaries with a large lead of almost 17 points over Governor María Eugenia Vidal, also criticised the incumbent's approach to managing the country's most-populous region, saying her approach was "more of the same" and had led to the province being more indebted than when she took office.