Drug traffickers from Brazil are using Uruguay, in particular its capital city and main port of Montevideo, as a transit point for international drug trafficking operations, increasing the odds that Uruguay's internal drug market could grow larger and fuel the rise of local crime groups.
Although Uruguay is not a drug producing country, foreign drug traffickers exploit its porous borders with Argentina and Brazil to carry out transshipment operations, reported El País.
The São Paulo-based prison gang First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando Capital - PCC) is currently operating in Uruguay as well as in Paraguay and Bolivia, suggesting it has achieved a significant degree of penetration in South America's Southern Cone subregion. Police forces found that the PCC smuggled cocaine from Montevideo's port to Africa and Europe, El País reported.
The group's use of Montevideo as a transshipment point is a sign that internal consumption of drugs in Uruguay may increase, and foreign criminal groups could find the country increasingly appealing due to the opportunities it provides for drug traffickers.
"Uruguay is very small, and easy to control. The only consumption market that attracts the PCC in the country is Montevideo, but it is far from the border. To be sure, Uruguay can also appeal to money launderers, who can carry out their criminal activities by purchasing land," a judicial official told El País.
According to the US State Department's 2016 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Uruguayan authorities have stated that criminal organizations from Colombia, Mexico and Russia are currently operating inside the country. They also stated that the biggest concern was the presence of Brazilian transnational organized crime groups.
InSight Crime Analysis
Contrary to other countries in the region, organized crime does not currently represent a serious threat to Uruguay's public security. Nonetheless, Uruguayans have had to deal with the consequences of the expansion of transnational crime groups, which carry out drug trafficking operations and money laundering inside Uruguay. These dynamics could generate new criminal threats or increase the internal consumption of drugs.
The latest report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) showed that while only 1.6 percent of North Americans consumed cocaine in 2016, the figure in Uruguay was 1.8 percent, followed by Brazil (1.75 percent) and Chile (1.73 percent). These figures could suggest that an increase in the trafficking of drugs through Uruguay may have led to a parallel increase in the consumption of drugs. Moreover, the distribution of a cocaine precursor known as "coca paste" remains a serious problem for the country.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Uruguay
As its internal market grows larger, Uruguay could witness the birth of local crime groups and the intensification of conflict between different criminal organizations already established in the country, especially in Montevideo. InSight Crime has previously reported on the arrests of members of transnational criminal organizations in Uruguay, and stressed how these could be indicative of an evolution of the country's criminal landscape.
Regionally, the PCC has established a presence in other countries, including Colombia. This should come as no surprise, given that -- as InSight Crime has previously noted -- the PCC is capable of organizing drug trafficking operations and sending drug shipments abroad, as well as controlling shipments of marijuana and cocaine in both national and regional markets.