Growing drug trafficking in Uruguay has given rise to local criminal groups involved in the trade, a sign the country may battle to maintain the relative tranquility it has historically enjoyed compared to others in the region.
According to National Police Director Julio Guarteche, "Uruguayans began as mules but now are the ones who organize large shipments and money laundering," reported Subrayado.
Guarteche said there are three main types of criminal groups currently involved in the drug trade in Uruguay: low key traffickers who want to go unnoticed, violent territorial traffickers who use minors to carry out contract killings, and organized bands of criminals who plan and carry out crimes such as robbing drug dealers.
According to Guarteche, cocaine consumption has increased, apparently due to increased purchasing power among the general population, while use of crack cocaine -- its cheaper derivative -- has decreased.
InSight Crime Analysis
For many years, drug traffickers from countries such as Colombia, Mexico and Brazil have used Uruguay as a destination for money laundering and drug transit and the growth of the drug trade prompted the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to reopen its office in Uruguay in September 2012.
Based on Guarteche's statements, the growing drug trade is changing the country's criminal dynamic. Likely lured by the profits on offer, it appears local groups are becoming increasingly involved in both the domestic distribution and international export of narcotics.
Although Uruguay has historically been one of the most peaceful countries in Latin America, violence has steadily increased in recent years, with a 45 percent increase in homicides recorded between 2011 and 2012.
According to a report released this year by the Interior Ministry, while killings receded in the first half of 2013 compared to the corresponding period in 2012, 60 percent of national homicides were committed with a firearm, rising to 67 percent in Montevideo. While not irrefutable evidence of organized crime, its presence is often accompanied by significant gun crime. Meanwhile, 32 percent of homicides were due to "conflict between criminals or score settling."