A network of navy officials accused of providing jet fuel for aircraft transporting drugs has revealed startling corruption within Uruguay's security agencies, at a time when the South American nation is becoming increasingly relevant for international drug traffickers.
On January 12, the Attorney General's Office in the department of Maldonado accused four navy officers of providing criminal groups with logistics and access to fuel for planes used to transport drugs.
According to the charges, the network was responsible for coordinating the theft of fuel from the Capitán Curbello airforce base in Laguna del Sauce, 15 kilometers from the city of Punta del Este.
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The officers reportedly enrolled their subordinates into the scheme, making them move and report quantities of jet fuel so the theft wouldn't be noticed, such as recording higher volumes of gasoline containers than were actually being moved.
Additionally, the investigation revealed that the drug flights involved landed in the northern department of Salto, where they unloaded drugs that were later moved along National Route 3 on the way to Montevideo.
After the allegations were made public, Uruguay's Navy issued a press release in which it promised to conduct an internal investigation.
InSight Crime Analysis
Reports of links between members of Uruguay’s security forces and criminal groups come at a troubled time, after a year where the country dealt with a sharp rise in homicides and a growing reputation as a transshipment point for drugs headed to Europe.
As seen in other countries in the region, the growth of the drug business has become an economic incentive for law enforcement officials, both active and retired, to wind up with important roles in the drug trafficking chain, as has now occurred in Uruguay.
Antonio Ladra, journalist and author of the 2014 book “Narcos in Uruguay,” told InSight Crime that while drug traffickers have permeated the Uruguayan security forces for years in order to protect their operations, such instances are becoming increasingly visible.
“Even before 2000, there were reports of links between mid and high-level commanders within security forces and drug trafficking. What is happening now is that the increase of drugs entering the country is making the corruption more evident,” he indicated.
According to Carlos Noria, director of Uruguay’s anti-narcotics agency (Dirección General de Represión al Tráfico Ilícito de Droga- DGRTD), 2019 closed with a historic record of drug seizures, with approximately 12 tons of cocaine being confiscated around the country.
During an interview with the media outlet Carve850, Noria explained that most of the drugs seized were headed for international markets and that only a small part was destined for Uruguay’s domestic market.
The number of seizures in 2019 represents a considerable increase from one year to the next, considering that, only 754 kilograms of cocaine were seized across the country in 2018, according to data from the Ministry of the Interior, published by El Observador.
Examples of this increase include at least three important cocaine seizures, in which the drugs were hidden on cargo ships headed for Europe that sailed from Uruguay last year, and in which customs authorities were presumably involved.
Furthermore, Ladra explained that collusion between drug traffickers and security forces are higher in border areas that are more difficult to control and from where drugs enter the country, such as the city of Salto and Uruguay’s National Route 3.
“The route was previously known for cigarette contraband that entered from Paraguay, but the criminal groups soon realized that it was a profitable means of transporting cocaine. For this reason, it remains one of the primary crossings from the border to Montevideo today,” he stated.