Uruguay is on course for its most violent year on record, according to a new report, suggesting that organized crime may be increasing its presence in one of Latin America's historically more peaceful countries.
The Proposal Foundation (Fundacion Propuesta - FP), an organization that monitors security in Uruguay, released figures putting the country on course for a homicide rate of 9.19 per 100,000 in 2012. This marks a jump from 6.27 per 100,000 last year, and means that 2012 will be Uruguay's most violent year on record, reported EFE.
Nearly half of the 259 homicides so far this year were the result of fights, assaults and robberies, according to the FP, which collects its statistics from press reports of killings throughout the country.
InSight Crime Analysis
While a homicide rate of less than 10 per 100,000 people is still low for the region -- neighboring Brazil had a rate of 21 per 100,000 in 2010, for example -- the jump of nearly 50 percent in a year is cause for alarm. What's more, given that the FP collects its statistics from newspaper reports, it is possible that the real figure could be higher.
In January, InSight Crime noted that a spate of gang shootouts and murders in Montevideo pointed to increased organized criminal activity in the country, with officials admitting their concern over rising violence, which they attributed to warring drug gangs.
According to the US State Department, drug traffickers from Colombia, Mexico and Bolivia are increasingly using Uruguay as a transit point for narcotics. Uruguayan officials are also concerned that Brazilian gangs may be using their country as a haven from the attention of Brazilian authorities, and that criminal organizations may even be shifting cocaine production operations to the country.
It was recently announced that the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) would re-open its office in Uruguay, 18 years after it was closed, underscoring the country's growing importance in the international narcotics trade.