HomeNewsBriefRecord Seizures of Cocaine Expose Severe Flaws at Uruguay's Main Airport
BRIEF

Record Seizures of Cocaine Expose Severe Flaws at Uruguay's Main Airport

COCAINE / 10 APR 2020 BY MARIA ALEJANDRA NAVARRETE EN

Over the past year, repeated allegations of weak security and customs checks at Uruguay's main international airport in Montevideo have showcased its important role in the trafficking of drugs to Europe. 

Numerous seizures throughout 2019 confirmed Uruguay was a growing transshipment point for cocaine on its way to Europe, with hundreds of kilograms of drugs being found in Montevideo's Carrasco International Airport.

But reports that staff within Uruguay's customs and security institutions were collaborating with criminal gangs have raised the alarm.

The most impactful case came in May 2019 when more than 600 kilograms of cocaine were found in Mulhouse, France, on a private jet which had taken off from Carrasco airport, Uruguay's El Pais newspaper reported.

SEE ALSO: Uruguay News and Profile 

As a result of this colossal seizure, Uruguay's Anti-Drugs Trafficking General Directorate (Dirección General de Represión al Tráfico Ilícito de Drogas - DGRT) opened an investigation into how checks at Carrasco airport could have failed to detect it.

Europol suspected a network of Uruguayan officials may have been bribed to help the drugs go through the airport, Subrayado reported. One police officer and one Interpol official have been charged on suspicion of taking bribes to let the drugs go through security.

Facing accusations that airport officials involved in the crime may have been bribed, August 1, Uruguay's customs director, Enrique Canon, defended the country's customs system, vowing that all protocols had been carried out.

On August 2, Canon resigned. The day after his defense, the port of Hamburg in Germany seized 4.5 tons of cocaine hidden in sports bags on a ship coming from Montevideo. This was the single largest seizure of drugs in German history.

This did not appear to have an immediate effect. in September, a man was caught in Spain having travelled from Carrasco with 47 kilos of cocaine.

This arrest led to the exposure of a gang made up of Uruguayan, Spanish, Argentine and Croatian citizens who had been sending drugs from Carrasco Airport to Tenerife, Spain for months before being detected, El Observador reported. 

InSight Crime Analysis

In 2018, Uruguay seized 754 kilograms of cocaine. In 2019, this rose to 12 tons. Uruguay's security institutions and border checks appear to be overwhelmed and have not been able to keep up with the rapid rise of the drugs flowing through the country.

Last summer's scandal surrounding the drug flight to France may have become a watershed moment. At the time, then Minister of Defense, José Bayardi, pointed to severe lack of controls at Carrasco's terminals going back years.

Roberto Valdivieso, president of the country's Association of Customs Officials (Asociación de Funcionarios Aduaneros), told Montevideo Portal that "you can load and unload anything (at Carrasco Airport) and customs won't realize because there are no controls."

SEE ALSO: Uruguay Navy Officers in Worrying Link to Drug Trafficking

In his defense, the day before his resignation, Canon said that customs workers had not checked the cargo on board the private plane to Switzerland as it was not their job to do so, noting that this was only done when police notify customs of potential risk.

This is an example of what appears to be broader difficulties in communications between various institutions, including the police, airport security, customs and migration, which are worsening the problem.

This problem is not unique to Uruguay. Customs officials at Mexico City International Airport have also been accused of relaxing their controls to allow arms and drug trafficking through their terminals. And a report in July 2019 found that Mexico's then Deputy Director of Airports Supervision had allegedly been facilitating drug shipments through four of the country's biggest airports. 

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

COCAINE / 17 FEB 2022

The discovery of two bodies hanging from a bridge in Ecuador may be the starkest sign yet of the country’s…

COCAINE / 7 JUL 2022

When brothers Seth and Roberto Paisano Wood were released from prison and returned to their hometown of Brus Laguna, in…

COCAINE / 6 MAY 2022

The US has offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the arrest of leaders of the Montes Bobadilla…

About InSight Crime

WORK WITH US

Open Position: Full Stack WordPress Developer

28 NOV 2022

As Full Stack WordPress Developer You Will: Work collaboratively with other developers and designers to maintain and improve organizational standards.Demonstrate a high level of attention to detail, and implement best…

THE ORGANIZATION

Join Us This #GivingTuesday in Exposing Organized Crime

24 NOV 2022

For over twelve years, InSight Crime has contributed to the global dialogue on organized crime and corruption. Our work has provided policymakers, analysts, academics, journalists, and the general public with…

THE ORGANIZATION

Like Crime, Our Coverage Knows No Borders

18 NOV 2022

The nature of global organized crime means that while InSight Crime focuses on Latin America, we also follow criminal dynamics worldwide. InSight Crime investigator Alessandro Ford covers the connections between Latin American and European…

THE ORGANIZATION

Using Data to Expose Crime

11 NOV 2022

Co-director Jeremy McDermott made a virtual presentation at a conference hosted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The ‘Sixth International Conference on Governance, Crime, and Justice…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime ON AIR

4 NOV 2022

InSight Crime Co-director Steven Dudley was interviewed for the podcast The Rosenberg Case: A Tale of Murder, Corruption, and Conspiracy in Guatemala, which explores the potential involvement of then president, Álvaro Colom,…