Uruguay has seen a record level of homicides during the term of outgoing President Jose Mujica, and rising violence will be a key challenge for his successor Tabare Vazquez, as well as for the future of the country's marijuana legalization policy.
According to a study released by Observatorio Fundapro (pdf), a security think tank allied to the opposition Colorado Party, there have been 1,263 murders in Uruguay since Mujica took office in 2010, compared to 1,034 in Vazquez's first term, 2005-2010 (see table below).
The rise was largely driven by a rapid increase in murders in the state of Montevideo, location of the country's capital, since 2011, the study noted.
There have been 60 percent more murders committed under Mujica's administration than during the first presidency after the country returned to democracy in 1984.
According to the study, the number of homicides this year places Uruguay's murder rate at between 8.1 and 8.5 per 100,000 people, depending on which population statistics are used, compared to a rate of below 4 per 100,000 in 1984.
InSight Crime Analysis
Uruguay remains one of the safer countries in Latin America, and its murder rate pales in comparison to such violence hotspots as Honduras and Venezuela, which have murder rates of over 90 and 50 per 100,000 people respectively, according to the United Nation's latest figures.
The increase in murders in Uruguay has been fairly steady over the last three decades, suggesting that the violence owes to a broader social trend rather than a sudden collapse in the security situation, as seen in countries like Honduras.
However, the fact that homicides are consistently rising is still a cause for concern. In addition, while Uruguay may be safer than many of its neighbors, its residents do not feel secure; in a 2012 survey by Corporacion Latinobarometro (pdf), around 40 percent of residents rated citizen security as the biggest issue facing the country.
Mujica has addressed the issue of rising violence through his marijuana legalization reforms, which he says could reduce violence by removing a major source of income for criminal groups. However, with Mujica's time in office running out, the success or failure of the project as well as the broader issue of rising violence will be issues for his successor -- previous President Tabare Vazquez, who is set to return for a second term after winning run-off elections on November 30.