Prosecutors and judges investigating organized crime in Uruguay have been assigned special police protection after receiving threats, an indication of growing security concerns in one of South America's safest nations.
Teams of bodyguards made up of members of the police force's Antinarcotics Brigade and other security bodies will protect two current and two former organized crime judges, two organized crime prosecutors, and the former president of the National Drug Board. Protection measures include armored cars, residential watchmen and travel security, reported El Observador.
The protection measures are a boost to security support that the Interior Ministry has provided to judicial officials since 2009. Police Chief Julio Guarteche recently said police had found that foreign drug traffickers held in Uruguayan jails had the capacity to conduct attacks against judges.
According to Guarteche, threats against judges have not yet reached the most serious of three levels into which they are classified.
InSight Crime Analysis
Uruguay is considered one of the safest and least corrupt countries in Latin America. The country has a homicide rate of about 6 per 100,000 residents and is tied at first in the region and 20th in the world with Chile in Transparency International's 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index. Despite this, surveys show a high level of perceived citizen insecurity, particularly in the capital, thought to be connected to a rise in crime that has accompanied a growing cocaine paste consumer market over the past decade.
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Heightened security measures for judges are a further indicator that organized crime is increasingly seen as a threat. The country is home to street gangs and has arrested a small number of homegrown drug traffickers over the years, but it appears to be the threat of transnational organized crime that is behind the increase in security.
According to the US State Department, foreign drug traffickers attracted by Uruguay's borders with Brazil and Argentina -- both departure points for drugs shipped to Europe and South America's two biggest consumer markets -- use the country as a transit point and logisitcal centers. Cocaine paste can also be acquired cheaply in Uruguay, from where it is often smuggled into Brazil.
Pending marijuana legislation aims to cut profits of criminal gangs through legalizing Uruguay's biggest drug consumption market, but is unlikely to effect the threat posed by transnational criminals.