Uruguay: The new global drug trafficking hub
09 Aug 2019

Lacking resources and organization, authorities in Uruguay are struggling to combat global drug trafficking. The country has become an increasingly important hub for drug smugglers as a result.

“Uruguay is not looking too good in this matter,” Enrique Canon, head of Uruguay’s top customs authority, said after the recent discovery of 600 kilograms (1,300 pounds) of cocaine at a French airport. The illicit shipment came from Uruguay.

The 4.5 tons of cocaine discovered in Hamburg last week on a container ship cost Canon his job. He resigned shortly afterwards.

The cocaine has an estimated street value of about €1 billion ($1.11 billion). It was the largest-ever cocaine shipment seizure in Germany, though it was not the first time a large shipment of the drug from Uruguay was confiscated in the port of Hamburg this year. In April, German customs discovered 440 kilos of cocaine in a container loaded with rice sacks. According to the transport documents, the container was loaded onto the cargo ship in Uruguay.

South America’s Switzerland

Uruguay is South America’s smallest Spanish-speaking country. It is often regarded as a prosperous, quiet and safe place on a continent that has experienced political and social upheaval. “Uruguay, along with countries such as Costa Rica and Chile, has historically been considered a rather stable and safe country, a reputation that no longer reflects today’s reality,” said Chris Dalby, managing editor of InSight Crime, a Washington-based journalist network that specializes in researching organized crime in Latin America.

Unlike many other countries in the region, Uruguay does not have an acute problem with violence, Dalby told DW, noting this has made authorities more complacent and border controls insufficient in comparison with other Latin American countries. This vulnerability is being exploited by Latin American drug cartels, along with their customers in Europe, Dalby said.

Cocaine in demand

To make matters worse, demand for cocaine is on the rise worldwide. According to the latest United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report, a record of roughly 2,000 tons of cocaine was produced in 2017. That is an increase of 25 percent compared to the previous year.

“This cocaine has to go somewhere,” Dalby said. Drug traffickers are increasingly turning to less-used export routes and transit countries from South America, including Uruguay. “Bolivian cocaine has been on the European market via Uruguay for at least 10 years,” Dalby said. The authorities in Uruguay became aware of the problem since long, but noticing the problem does not necessarily mean they did anything about it, he added.

Read more at Deutsche Welle

Photo: Paulakindsvater [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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