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Organized crime sets its sights on peaceful Uruguay

Uruguay is known as one of the safest countries in Latin America, but organized crime and violence are on the rise.

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In 2010, then-Interior Minister Eduardo Bonomi warned that organized crime in the country was becoming increasingly internationalized and dominated by large scale groups. He specifically mentioned the infiltration of Serbian, Mexican, Colombian and Brazilian criminal organizations, and said the government is concerned their presence might give rise to homegrown mafias. One operation in April 2011 dismantled a Colombian drug trafficking ring operating in Montevideo.

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While the scale of drug trafficking in Uruguay is nowhere near that which exists in Mexico, its remote borders with Argentina and Brazil and its 600 kilometer-long coast make the country a significant transshipment point for foreign drug smugglers. A comparison could be drawn with Ecuador, which is used by criminal groups of various nationalities, drawn by its convenient location bordering Colombia and Peru.

The US State Department claims that the majority of cocaine brought into Uruguay comes either overland or on small drug flights from Colombia and Bolivia. Because Uruguay is a member of the MERCOSUR trade bloc, much of the freight that leaves the country’s ports is not closely monitored, an opening which traffickers eagerly exploit. Illicit cargo is sent out of the country in containers on board major shipping vessels. Because Uruguay is a founding member of and active participant in MERCOSUR, and trade is a major contributor to the Uruguayan economy, the allure of its ports to drug traffickers will likely remain.

–– Geoffrey Ramsey is a writer for Insight – Organized Crime in the Americas, which provides research, analysis, and investigation of the criminal world throughout the region. Find all of his research here.

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